With the the partial shutdown of the federal government now in its third week, people and businesses in Santa Cruz County are feeling and fearing its financial impact.
For 36-year-old Alex Lim, a building conservator at Tumacácori National Historical Park who was furloughed soon after the park closed on Dec. 22 as a result of the shutdown, it has meant reaching deeper into his pocket to get by without a paycheck.
“I’m kind of feeding off of the savings that my wife and I had for house repairs,” Lim said. “That gave us some cushion to live through this period, but (the shutdown) is not something that I look forward to being extended because savings can only be extended so much.”
The partial shutdown, which stems from a standoff over President Trump’s demand for more than $5 billion for a border wall, has resulted in the furlough of 380,000 federal workers and forced an additional 420,000 to work without pay, according to the Associated Press. The president was prepared to make his case to the American people during a prime-time TV address on Tuesday, and is reportedly considering declaring a national emergency that would allow him to build the wall without congressional approval, and paving the way for a full reopening of the government.
About a dozen other park employees at Tumacácori were furloughed along with Lim, he said, leaving only a couple people to keep an eye on the site for damage or vandalism. And while he’s taken advantage of the time off to work on refurbishing his circa 1915 home in downtown Nogales in hopes of moving in soon, Lim said, it’s been unsettling since it’s now the longest of the four government shutdowns he has experienced while working at the park.
“What I’m afraid of are those penalties that end up costing me an extra pay later,” he said in reference to his credit card debt, along with other general expenses. “Those automatic payments for cellphones and insurance, those are minor expenses, but they add up.”
In addition to the direct financial impact the shutdown has had on federal employees, it’s also having an indirect effect on businesses that depend on the government.
“In general, the closing of Tumacácori (park) has had an impact on the number of tourists that come to our area and that affects our businesses down here,” said Jean Neubauer, owner of the the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company near the park. “It has affected us because all the stores around here, we’re very dependent on tourism.”
While Neubauer is fortunate to have a “strong, loyal customer base” at her business, she said, she’s still noticed a recent slowdown in the area during what is usually one of the busiest times of year.
So far, the local produce import industry, which depends on customs and agricultural inspectors at the border to get its product into the United States from Mexico, hasn’t been affected by the shutdown, said Lance Jungmeyer, executive director of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. But they’re keeping an eye out for complications that could arise if the standoff isn’t resolved soon.
For example, Jungmeyer said, furloughed government staff miles away in Washington, D.C. could create obstacles to the flow of produce across the border.
“On a day-to-day basis, the produce is getting across,” he said. “But sometimes when you’re crossing produce, you come across a problem and you have to reach to the people in D.C. and ask what we can do to fix it. But if those people aren’t there, then it can’t be fixed.”
In addition, Jungmeyer said, the produce industry relies on reports by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to track current sales trends, but those reports aren’t being done while employees are on furlough.
“Over time, if the shutdown continues, we’ll see other little things that are going to cause problems,” he said.
Nogales is home to the largest port of entry in Arizona and one of the biggest Border Patrol stations in the country. And while most Border Patrol agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers remain at work, they are not receiving paychecks during the shutdown, which also has significant ramifications for them and the local economy.
As for Lim, the furloughed park employee, he’s preparing to begin a second job as a professor at the University of Arizona, something that had been in the works since before the shutdown. Still, he said he can’t count on that source of income to alleviate any immediate financial burdens.
“I start teaching in mid-January, so I still won’t see the paycheck very soon,” Lim said, adding that he and his wife were eagerly awaiting the arrival of her paycheck, which they had expected to come Monday.
“It’s not a lot of money, but enough for us to get by for a week or two,” he said.