U.S. Rep. Casten: Thousands affected locally by government shutdown
Thousands of federal workers and constituents in the 6th Congressional District are being directly burdened by the partial federal government shutdown, U.S. Rep. Sean Casten said, and there's no immediate end in sight.
Addressing a standing-room-only crowd Sunday at the Wheaton VFW Post 2164, Casten said ending the standoff has been top priority for the 116th Congress since taking office more than a week ago. He focused on legislative procedure and services affected by the shutdown, rather than President Donald Trump's demand for a wall along the southwestern border.
No progress can be made, he said, until the U.S. Senate approves a package of spending bills that have been passed by the House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to put them on the docket.
"This is not a partisan issue," Casten said. "The bottom line here is that we have to reopen the government. The House has done everything legislatively that we need to do this."
About 4,300 federal employees in the 6th District, joining about 800,000 nationwide, have been furloughed or are working without pay since the shutdown began three weeks ago, Casten said. Traffic control and TSA workers, for example, are being forced to go to work but have not received a paycheck, he said, and IRS offices remain empty despite looming tax deadlines.
Additionally, Casten said, a "huge number of people" rely on federal programs that are in danger of going unfunded. Just under 13,000 households in the district use food assistance services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Women, Infants and Children program, which only have funding through February.
Other services being affected include housing assistance and U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, Casten said. Additionally, he said, border security and courts aren't being fully funded, which delays the process for immigrants to legally stay in the country.
"If you don't leave here with a tear in your eye, you're not understanding the consequences of this," he said. "There's just massive unintended consequences."
During an often heated question-and-answer session, several attendees brought up the issue of border security and Trump's initiative to build a more than $5 billion border wall. Casten frequently redirected the conversation to "urgent issues" related to the shutdown, saying the Department of Homeland Security is fully funded in the legislation passed by the House.
Wheaton resident Lisa Brennan, a federal employee who has been furloughed, said she worries about workers who live paycheck to paycheck, as well as the constituents who rely on government resources and are unable to access them.
"A lot of employees are low-graded employees. They aren't making a lot of money, but they are doing the people's work," Brennan said. "I think about my staff and my colleagues who don't have a safety net."
Casten listed several resources and programs in the area that could help federal employees and other residents affected by the shutdown, including the DuPage Dispensary of Hope, World Relief DuPage and various local food banks. DuPage County and the DuPage Federation on Human Services also can help direct constituents to the most appropriate social service agencies.
The Northern Illinois Food Bank was on site to connect with people who previously haven't had to use such services, said Sarah Guy, compliance and best practices manager.
"We want to make our voices extra loud right now so we can make sure that they know we're here," she said. "At this time, we especially want to make sure that we're connecting with our local leaders (like Casten) ... and really use their platform and their audiences to make sure we're hitting a few more ears that we otherwise might not have hit."