Government Shutdown: For Hispanics, Hundreds Of Thousands To Be Furloughed

Capitol Building
The U.S. Capitol Building stands in Washington December 17, 2012. Reuters/Joshua Roberts


The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent out orders just before midnight on Monday to governmental agencies advising them to "execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations", triggering the furlough of some 800,000 federal workers, while over a million more will go to work on Tuesday without pay.  Among them were many of the estimated 159,651 Latinos who make up 8.2 percent of the federal government's workers, according to data compiled in a September report on Hispanic employment from the OMB. 

The shutdown followed a swarm of last-minute activity in which the Republican-led House and the Democrat-led Senate faced off over the question of funding for the new health care law.  Hours before midnight, the House passed a bill 228-201 which sought to hinge continued government spending to a one-year delay of the new legal mandate for individuals to buy health insurance.   It also would have denied federal health care subsidies to lawmakers in Congress, the president and vice president, and lawmakers' staffers, who would all have to buy their health insurance on the new exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act.  When the bill came to the Senate about an hour later, however, that chamber voted almost immediately to strip it of the provisions on the health care law, sending it right back to the House.  As the fiscal year drew to a close at midnight, much of the government was left without funding.

The biggest federal employer of Hispanics - the Department of Homeland Security, 20.9 percent of which is Latino - is expected to keep most of its employees on the job, including the Coast Guard, customs and immigrations officers, and the Border Patrol.  The Social Security Administration, which is the second biggest employer of Latinos at 14.5 percent, will keep enough staff on the job to be able to keep sending out checks.  But employees who perform other services, like scheduling hearings for cases or troubleshooting problems with benefit cards, won't be on the job on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama called House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) but the 10-minute conversation between them yielded little.  According to the New York Times, Boehner summarized the president's remarks to him as "I'm not going to negotiate."  In the White House briefing room in the last moments before midnight, Obama said of House Republicans, "You don't get to extract a ransom for doing your job."

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David Iaconangelo is a Brooklyn-based writer and translator.  Formerly editor of ZafraLit, a blog of new short fiction from Cuba.  He has lived in and reported from various Latin American countries.