Living through the Chicken Game: SAIS DC Weathers the Shutdown

Staff Writer at SAIS Washington

DUE to the continuing Congressional battle over healthcare, the US government was officially shut down on October 1. Essential services will continue, but the remaining agencies have been closed until a deal is approved. Without an end in sight, SAIS DC will be forced to adapt to the nation’s capital in shutdown.

One of the shutdown’s most immediate impacts on SAIS students will be changes to Washington’s public services. Without Congress’ approval of a budget, the city is reliant on its rainy day fund to continue trash collection, street cleaning, infrastructure repairs, library access and so on. According to Mayor Vincent Gray, the city’s money should last for two weeks, at which point these programs will be severely curtailed. The 1995-96 shutdown had all the city services outside of some police, firefighter and EMS teams furloughed.

The shutdown has made work much more difficult for students working or interning in the public sector.
For example, the intelligence community currently has 75 percent of its staff furloughed. Furloughed contractors are also not guaranteed back pay. Meanwhile, the surviving offices have had to put off work that requires coordination across agencies. “It’s frustrating to see how much just isn’t getting done. People would do the work if they could, but the shutdown won’t let them,” said Megan Davidow (SAIS ’14).

Program cuts will also have a wide effect, as several federal social welfare programs, including Head Start, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) have stopped accepting applications or cut payments in several states. These offices have already seen declining funds, particularly with the sequester’s cuts in program funding. As one student said, “people are worried – even those on Medicare and Social Security. Anything can happen, and it’s scary.”

The crisis is likely to intensify as the US is expected to hit its debt ceiling on October 16, at which point either the Democrats and Republicans reach an agreement or the country loses the ability to borrow. Even if this is avoided, the unprecedented crisis would necessarily involve harsh cuts to the country’s safety net and a possible reevaluation of the US’ role as the world’s reserve currency.

This political and financial mess has occurred while many SAIS students have begun their job search. Confusion over back pay and “non-essential” positions has made it harder for many students to seek work in the US public sector. “I’m so shocked by what has been happening right now…I think it will be much harder for the US to attract international students,” said Zhaoyin Feng (SAIS ’14).

Yet, SAIS students are working hard to make the best of the crisis. The city has been filled with happy hours, concerts and discussions to keep furloughed workers busy for now. “For now, I’m just glad I get to see my boyfriend more. We’ll see what happens next,” said Emily Clark (SAIS ’14).

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