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D.C. congressional delegate to hold ‘emergency town hall’ on shutdown’s local impacts

Curbed logo Curbed 1/23/2019 Andrew Giambrone
a sign on the side of a building: The Smithsonian National Zoo, which is closed to the public during the shutdown© bakdc/Shutterstock The Smithsonian National Zoo, which is closed to the public during the shutdown

Furloughed workers, contractors, and small-business owners are invited to attend the event this week

On Thursday, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is hosting what she is calling an “emergency town hall” on the local impacts of the partial federal government shutdown, which currently ranks as the longest U.S. government shutdown in history. The event is poised to take place at One Judiciary Square (441 4th St. NW) from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Furloughed federal workers, contractors, small-business owners, nonprofit staffers, and others are invited to participate.

In a release, Norton’s office suggests that she wants the scope of the town hall to be broad. She is “also encouraging testimony from D.C. tenants and landlords who have been hurt by the shuttering of federal rental housing assistance programs; nonprofits, such as area food banks, that are providing increased social services to assist federal workers and contractors; and other D.C. residents whose families and neighbors have suffered during the Trump shutdown,” according to her office. Norton, in a statement, says the District “must take the lead in showing the nation the real-life hardship” that the government shutdown is causing.

The event will come on the heels of a report by D.C.’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) showing that the shutdown has resulted in about 37,750 District residents being furloughed, or more than a third of the 102,000 furloughed federal workers whose agencies are headquartered in the city. The CFO also estimates that another 42,635 private and nonprofit workers, of whom more than a third are D.C. residents, provide services to the affected federal agencies. “The combined result is an estimated 144,635 employees not being paid or receiving reduced pay in the District,” D.C. CFO Jeff DeWitt writes in a Jan. 22 letter to D.C.’s mayor and Council chairman. “This is approximately 18% of the 796,000 individuals employed in the District.”

DeWitt also warns of depressed spending in the local economy because of withheld checks, lost income, and decreased tourism. Generally, notes DeWitt, these losses are coming from “reduced restaurant sales, increased hotel vacancies from reduced room nights, lower retail sales, and less revenue from parking.” The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, for one, recently reported that its members were seeing an average 20 percent drop in sales.

The District has already lost millions of dollars per week in tax revenue due to the shutdown, the CFO says. His office projects that those weekly loses will rise to more than $15 million by the second week of March if the federal government closure continues. “Cumulative losses to District revenue are estimated at $85.21 million if the shutdown continues for 8 weeks, to February 15, 2019, and accelerate and reach $144.88 million if the shutdown continues for 12 weeks to March 15, 2019,” DeWitt’s letter notes. “These losses assume back pay for federal employees that will translate into a delay but not a loss in employer[s] withholding taxes.”

The District has already lost millions of dollars per week in tax revenue due to the shutdown.

The good news, explains the CFO, is that, locally speaking, D.C. is in “the strongest financial condition of its history and [one that is] stronger than most cities and states in the country.” That includes the highest-possible bond rating (Aaa) from financial-services firm Moody’s as well as almost 60 days’ worth of operating reserves, “giving it the ability to handle temporary downturns in revenues.”

Among other local impacts of the shutdown are significant declines in Metro ridership and revenue, a closed marriage bureau at D.C. Superior Court (though the city has taken up the nuptial torch for now), and growing uncertainty for public-housing and low-income tenants who depend on federal funding. To alleviate some of the pressure residents are feeling, D.C. lawmakers on Tuesday voted to put a hold on eviction and foreclosure proceedings for both federal employees and private-sector contractors during the shutdown and for 30 days after.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has also announced new sources of food- and mortgage-assistance for affected residents. In a statement reacting to the CFO’s report on Tuesday, she urged the president to work with Congress “to bring an immediate end” to the shutdown, even while saying that D.C. “is in a strong position to step up and assist residents” largely thanks to its otherwise strong financial condition. “While we are confident that no immediate changes are on the horizon, we know that if this shutdown continues, at some point, the projections will become more dire and it will impact the services we provide to our residents,” Bowser said.

But not every District official was so sanguine about the situation. On Twitter, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman wrote that the “shutdown is a local economic recession.”

In a statement on Tuesday, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said “the real issue is the people behind the numbers”—those who “aren’t getting paid and can’t pay their bills and do the ordinary business that is a part of daily lives.” His office added that he would meet with federal union workers, local small-business owners, and other parties this week to discuss additional action that the Council could pursue. It is unclear when the shutdown will end.

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