Government Shutdown Brings Time Off (Good!), Cuts and No Pay (Bad!) for Jews

Yoga and Bagels Amid the Angst in Capital

Shutdown Bites: An empty Rotunda is seen at the U.S. Capitol due to a suspension of all tours due to the federal government shutdown.
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Shutdown Bites: An empty Rotunda is seen at the U.S. Capitol due to a suspension of all tours due to the federal government shutdown.

By Ron Kampeas

Published October 07, 2013.
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One Jewish Democratic Capitol Hill staffer tweeted a dashboard photo of an empty Interstate 66 – the artery connecting Virginians to Washington – during the morning rush hour.

“Yeah, the #GOPshutdown stinks, but at least there’s no traffic,” the staffer said.

The capital’s signature Jewish-themed monument, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, shuttered its doors and used the shutdown for a fundraising pitch.

“The founders of our Museum likely never envisioned a time of budget sequestration cuts and shutdown, but they did foresee the need for a museum supported by a unique public-private partnership,” it said. “Although the government ensures our permanence and federal funds keep the Museum building open and free to the public, our educational programs rely on contributions from members and donors like you.”

An Oct. 9 commemoration of the Danish rescue of Jews during the Holocaust, which was to have featured prominent Danish Americans and a member of the Danish royal family, was postponed because of the shutdown.

Obama administration officials and their allies on the Hill, mindful of the bipartisan breadth of support for Israel, emphasized how the shutdown was affecting the alliance.

“The State Department’s ability to provide military assistance to Israel and other allies in the time frame that is expected and customary could be hindered depending on the length of the shutdown,” spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Wednesday.

Wendy Sherman, the third-ranked State Department official and one of those closest to the pro-Israel community, said in Senate testimony that sanctions on Iran are among the first affected by the shutdown.

“Government shutdown empties offices enforcing sanctions on Iran,” she said.

Staffers for national Jewish organizations say they already feel the absence of federal workers in their day-to-day dealings with government.

“At the federal level, the multi-family housing offices are skeletal,” said Rachel Goldberg, the director of aging policy at B’nai B’rith International, which runs a network of homes for the elderly across the country. “There’s no one for us to talk to if you need an answer to a question.”

Some programs were in good shape for the short run, Goldberg said, because they had received funding just before Oct. 1, technically the first day of the new fiscal year. But cuts would soon be felt in Meals on Wheels and home health aids.

William Daroff, the director of the Jewish Federations of North America, said many of the domestic issues with which his organization is concerned are being ignored while Congress grapples with the budget impasse. Among them is funding to secure the facilities of nonprofit buildings and special funding for elderly Holocaust survivors.

“There’s no oxygen to spare for any other agenda,” Daroff said.

Goldberg noted that basic care programs such as Social Security and federal medical care coverage for seniors and the poor remained relatively unaffected by the shutdown. But that could change should Congress and the White House fail to resolve a separate dispute by Oct. 17.

At that point, the government risks going into default unless Congress extends its debt allowance. Social Security checks could stop within weeks of that point; it is unclear what would happen to Medicare and Medicaid.

“That could be a game changer,” Goldberg said. “We’re urging people to tell their members of Congress that a debt ceiling stalemate is not something the country can do.”


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