The cooks and laborers who built the foundation of our county's culinary traditions have often gone unnoticed throughout history.
The local impact of the partial federal government shutdown is hard to miss, but it stretches further than trash piling up on the National Mall and shuttered federal offices.
WAMU’s Patrick Madden shares the unexpected impacts of the shutdown across our region. We’ll also we’ll hear from Jeanne Braha who heads volunteer and conservation efforts in Rock Creek Park.
Produced by Monna Kashfi
MR. KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast, when Washingtonians write stories about themselves, what do they have to say? We'll ask writers and local literary figures about the art of writing fiction. But first as the New Year kicks into high gear, the partial federal government shutdown lingers on with no apparent end in sight. The impact here in D.C. is hard to miss.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIYou don't have to look much farther than the overflowing trash bins on the National Mall or the lack of rush hour traffic. But the shutdown is also impacting life in Washington in ways that you may not expect. Joining me in studio to talk about that is Jeanne Braha. She is Executive Director of the Rock Creek Conservancy. Jeanne Braha, thank you for joining us.
MS. JEANNE BRAHAThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Patrick Madden, investigative reporter here at WAMU 88.5. Patrick, good to see you.
MR. PATRICK MADDENHey, Kojo.
NNAMDIAfter past shutdowns Congress has taken action to pay furloughed federal employees, but contractors who work for the federal government are not part of that compensation. Tell us what you've been hearing about the impact of the shutdown on these contract employees in our region.
MADDENWell, this is actually becoming more and more of an issue right now. In fact, I was reading that there are now some members of Congress who are trying to sort of make sure that these folks could get paid. Now as you said in the past federal employees do get retroactive back play -- back pay. But that's not the case for, you know, these federal contractors.
MADDENEspecially, you know, we're talking about here some of the low wage federal contractors. The folks who are working at, you know, to clean, doing cleaning services at the Smithsonian or the Department of Agriculture, and for them this is a real problem as this shutdown stretches on.
MADDENSo I spoke with one woman, Lila Johnson. She's 71 years old. She lives in Hagerstown, Maryland. She drives, you know, an hour and a half to get in here. She takes care of two grandchildren. And this shutdown -- missing these paychecks is having a huge impact on her life in terms of bills, utility payments. So, you know, for these federal -- you know, these contractors this is a huge huge problem.
NNAMDIFor them. You've also been reporting on the impact that the shutdown is having on resources available in our region. And this is surprising, resources to help victims of domestic violence. This is one of the consequences that obviously comes as a surprise for most people including yours truly. Tell us about that.
MADDENWell, this is -- it's a complicated issue. But basically --
NNAMDIEverything in Washington is complicated.
MADDENYou know, a lot of these critical programs and services for victims of domestic and sexual violence is funded by the federal government and it comes in a myriad of ways through grants and programs. But probably the most important is this Violence against Women Act. And what happened was is because of the shutdown, the Violence against Women Act lapsed. And that has created for folks that work in this industry, a lot of uncertainty about what could happen in the future if there isn't funding.
MADDENSo in terms of both, you know, money that is spent is often reimbursed by the federal government. You know, I spoke with someone in Montgomery County, who said yesterday, "You know, they're fine right now." But if this thing did stretch on for a while, they, you know, could lose several people who work as outreach folks. And I also spoke with some people, who work in Virginia who run a Crisis Center in Hamptons Road and she was really sort of scared about what, you know, what the lapse of funding could mean in terms of both -- and again, as I said, it's a little complicated.
MADDENBut there's money that comes through HUB, which is used for rapid re-housing. There's money for victim's services. There's all these different issues that could become a problem down the road. And the other thing they mentioned was that with domestic violence it's often -- you know, in times of real economic stress, that's also when they're really concerned. So it's sort of their fears are like multi-level right now about how this shutdown is affecting that area.
NNAMDIBut it's not all bad news. Some furloughed employees are getting some help from their federal credit unions. What kind of help are they offering?
MADDENThey're offering a lot of really supportive programs. So when I spoke with someone yesterday at the State Department Federal Credit Union, they're offering zero interest loans. They're waiving some late fees, ATM fees. Even doing some deferred loan payments on a case by case basis. So basically, you know, when you have a -- like, for example, at this federal credit union where I think something like three quarters of their members are state department employees and the state department is one of these agencies that shutdown.
MADDENYou know, you can see how easy it would be to miss a mortgage or miss a loan payment, a car payment. So they're basically going out of their way to help with this as this shutdown goes on. But even then you can see that this just is -- it can create so many financial problems for people in our area.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden is an investigative reporter here at WAMU 88.5. We're joined in studio by Jeanne Braha, Executive Director of the Rock Creek Conservancy. Jeanne, your organization works to restore Rock Creek Park, which many people do not realize is a national park. Tell us what types of efforts the Rock Creek Conservancy focuses on.
BRAHAThanks, Kojo. Yes, Rock Creek Conservancy is a partner to the national park, Rock Creek Park. And we provide both volunteer service and financial support to the park as well as we protect the entire watershed in Rock Creek both in D.C. and Montgomery County. So that the creek that is the primary resource and the reason for the park to exist, is kept clean and the water that then flows into the Potomac and the Chesapeake Bay is of high quality.
NNAMDIHow is this shutdown affecting both the park and your efforts in it? There's some 2200 volunteers, aren't there?
BRAHAWe actually have almost 5,000 volunteers a year. And in fact about 500 of those usually serve with us over Martin Luther King weekend. We really hope that the shutdown is resolved well before then. However, if the shutdown continues volunteer services are not permitted in the park during the shutdown. The park looks in many ways -- we're so fortunate to have this urban wilderness in the midst of Washington D.C. and it looks like a passive space, but it's really actively managed by its staff.
BRAHASo even with partners like us who can bring in and train volunteers, there's staff monitoring of volunteer activities as well as contractor activities to ensure environmental compliance that those resources are protected as well as to make sure that safety continues.
NNAMDIIs that what's different about other national parks where volunteers have been able to get in and help with the trash collection and other services?
BRAHAMy understanding is that volunteer services -- while each park is different, is that volunteer services in general are not permitted in the national parks during the shutdown. There certainly are partner organizations and agencies like Department of Public Works here in D.C. that have volunteered and have made arrangements to provide services to the park. And of course, visitors to the park that may identify as volunteers are certainly welcome to pick up trash that they see as they walk through the park.
NNAMDIHere is Michael in Arlington, Virginia. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELHello, again, Kojo. I'm Mike Nardolilli. I'm Chairman of NOVA Parks. I have two silver linings about the partial government shutdown with respect to parks. First a failure to fund the federal registrar means that the Trump Administration can't take any actions requiring notice and comments such as selling off or opening up public lands to private interests. So at least that can't happen during this time.
MICHAELAnd secondly, this is an opportunity for park patrons in the D.C. area to get to know their state, regional, and local parks. So those shut out from national parks here can always visit the 33 parks of NOVA parks or the 421 parks managed by Montgomery Parks, for example. So thanks for taking my call.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Here now is Francis in Washington D.C. Francis, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
FRANCISQuick question, earlier you mentioned that contract employees of the federal government are not being paid. And you mentioned a lady with a particularly dire situation living up in Maryland. My question is what about the contractors? I understand that these contractors are not paid as you go. They get a (word?) in advance or they get the full amount in advance. So if they've been paid, why are they not paying their contract employees?
NNAMDII don't know details about that. Patrick?
MADDENThat's a great question. I mean, I think the question is, you know, does the company, the contractor need to pay its employees. And I think so basically it falls on them. The difference is for these federal workers, of course, is that they're getting -- you know, Congress retroactively, you know, puts in a spending bill to make -- puts in legislation to make sure that the federal workers are paid. But I think that's a great point.
NNAMDIAnd he's certainly going to look into it. So thank you very much for your call. Patrick, at the beginning of the shutdown, Mayor Bowser announced that the D.C. Department of Public Works would be stepping in to collect trash on the National Mall and at 126 other federal locations in the city including Rock Creek Park. But they can't fully address the gap. Social media has been full of pictures of overflowing trash cans on the Mall. And there's the other question. Are D.C. tax payers paying to pick up the slack here?
MADDENIt certainly appears to be. Mayor Bowser said that the city was spending $46,000 a week to help pick up this trash at federal parks. So it definitely would appear to be that D.C. is picking up the slack. And, of course, Kojo, if you can remember sort of past shutdowns when before -- when the D.C. government was sort of -- you know, there always was the question of whether or not the D.C. government could function during a federal government shutdown. That is no longer the case.
NNAMDIThey managed to break away from that, yes.
MADDENBut the big question was always, could the D.C. government pick up its own trash? And now we sort of come full circle where the D.C. government is helping pick up the federal government's trash during this shutdown.
NNAMDIAnd it's my understanding that at some point the D.C. government, however, is likely to ask the federal government for compensation for this.
MADDENThey will. But I think they never -- I mean, they do that. But I always think you don't always get everything that you paid.
NNAMDIThat you asked for.
MADDENThat you ask for.
NNAMDIJeanne, you have a major volunteer event planned for Martin Luther King weekend, which is coming up January 21st. Tell us about that event and is that now in jeopardy?
BRAHAWell, it certainly is a question of where we'll be able to do that event. If the shutdown continues, our Martin Luther King weekend events, there are at least nine events over the three days of the weekend and we encourage everyone to come out and help Rock Creek as well as other sites throughout the city.
BRAHAIf the shutdown continues, we won't be able to host any of those events inside of park boundaries. So we'll move the sites just outside of the park. A lot of the trash that comes into the park -- if we're doing a cleanup, comes with the rain. And we've had plenty of that this year, flows from outside of the park into the park. So actually just go outside and do some proactive preventative cleanups.
BRAHAWe'll also -- where we were planning to do invasive plant management, we'll be able -- last year we saved about 250 trees from English Ivy over Martin Luther King weekend. We'll be able to go into neighborhoods and encourage homeowners to take action in their yards in ways that people can do every day to help Rock Creek Park.
NNAMDIOne quick answer on contractors may come from Eric in Stevensville, Maryland. Eric, you got about 30 seconds.
ERICHi. Yes. So I'm actually a sole proprietor contractor, which means I'm owning my own business, but I basically pay myself with the funds I get. So there's no real pre-payment of any of my work. I basically get paid as I do my work. So that's -- there's a lot of contractors in that situation as well.
NNAMDIOkay. So right now you're not getting paid.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Jeanne Braha, thank you so much for joining us.
BRAHAThanks for having me.
NNAMDIJeanne Braha is the Executive Director of the Rock Creek Conservancy. Patrick Madden, always a pleasure.
MADDENThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIPatrick is an investigative reporter at WAMU 88.5. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, when Washingtonians write stories about themselves what do they have to say? We'll ask writers and local literary figures about writing fiction. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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