Mountlake Terrace City Hall was standing-room only Jan. 19 as Congressman Rick Larsen met with his 2nd Congressional District constituents to discuss the effects of the government shutdown.
He began by recounting stories his office has heard from those in his district who have affected. Among those stories, Larsen said, is a Skagit County woman who was unable to use a voucher from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to move into an apartment and now has to live in a motel, a student from Maine whose internship to study Pacific Northwest marine life was put on hold, and the postponement of a housing development that would have sheltered 10 homeless families.
“We’re hearing from a number of people and this is just a sample of it,” Larsen said.
The congressman said one of the reasons he was meeting with his constituents was to explain what the partial government shutdown — which has been in effect since Dec. 22 — meant for federal employees and what he has been doing to help end it. Although 75 percent of federal employees are still being paid to work, Larson said, he wanted to focus on the other 25 percent.
“Eight-hundred thousand Americans are not working, or working and not getting paid,” he said. “About 10,000 of those folks or so live here in Washington state.”
Larsen said his primary concern at this moment is to get the government open, ensure that federal workers receive the back pay they are entitled to, and then discuss the border security issue that has caused a stalemate between the Democrats and President Donald Trump.
“I’m working 100 percent to reopen the government,” he said.
Federal workers are not the only people who are being affected by the shutdown, Larsen said. The shutdown is impacting companies like Boeing that rely on Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspections, which are not being conducted, he said.
“This is a major part of our economy in Washington state,” he said. “So these parts are starting to back up in these small, medium and large companies until the FAA can get back on the job to do inspections.”
Among those affected by the government shutdown are food stamp recipients, who will be receiving their benefits for the month of February early — on Jan. 20.
Larsen said the food stamp program, which serves 34,000 members of his district, is running out of money and the advance ensures they will receive full benefits for the month of February. But, the status of the benefits for the month of March is unknown.
“Those folks on food stamps use those (debit cards) in stores, but a lot of those folks go to local food banks,” he said. “Food stamps usually isn’t enough to feed a family of four.”
Larsen said the shutdown has caused a ripple effect that has shifted from a debate about a border wall to a question of whether people who have been furloughed are going to be able to pay their bills.
“Right now Americans are suffering over this debate,” he said.
Larsen said the government spends $1.6 billion on border security annually and the effects of the shutdown have reached a point the Trump administration did not anticipate.
“Clearly there’s money in the budget for border security,” he said. “It’s just not true there isn’t.”
In addition to his efforts to reopen the government, Larsen said he is continuing to work on other priorities.
“The other 100 percent of my time is being spent working on my other goals,” he said.
These include initiatives like H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which he said will help “end corruption, strengthen democracy and voting rights and get dark money out of politics.”
“We want all political donations to disclose donors,” he said. “If it’s used for politics, donors should be disclosed.”
Larsen said the bill would also make it illegal for members of Congress to sit on a for-profit corporate board.
Larsen also reported that he will be selected as the chairman of the House Transportation Committee’s subcommittee on aviation.
As Larsen has continued to encourage the people in his district to contact his office with their thoughts on the shutdown, the one word he said he keeps hearing is “frustration.”
“Frustration with me personally, frustration with Congress generally, frustration with the President personally, frustration with the government generally,” he said. “I don’t want to undermine or downplay that at all.”
Larsen said the issue of the government shutdown is neither the responsibility of one entity nor can it be solved by one, solely.
“It is up to the President and it is up to Congress, but we need to get to talking to get to a solution,” he said.
Larsen said he does not want to compromise and support a border wall, because neither the government shutdown, nor the issue of border security, can be solved by a wall.
“The amount of investment necessary to do a border wall compared to the value you get for other things, I believe there’s more we can do and the numbers don’t match,” he said.
— Story and photo by Cody Sexton
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