For DC, Prospect Of Prolonged Shutdown Provokes Anxiety

Oct 10, 2013
Originally published on October 10, 2013 7:33 pm



With no sign of an end to the government shutdown, the economy here in Washington, D.C., is getting walloped. The D.C. region, including parts of Virginia and Maryland, is the biggest hub of federal workers and contractors in the nation. And a local economist projects the region could be losing $200 million a day during the shutdown.

NPR's Allison Keyes reports the impact extends far beyond federal workers and angry tourists.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You got them coffee?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah. I got them coffee and a bagel. Thanks.

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: The Wall Street Deli sits between the Department of Education and FEMA, and it's usually packed in the mornings. The street is normally full of federal workers in a neighborhood filled with restaurants, nail shops and other businesses that cater to them. Now, thanks to the shutdown...

JOHANNE CHO: It is ghost town here.

KEYES: Johanne Cho is part owner of the deli and says they've had to cut their workers' hours in order to stay open.

CHO: Even though we are struggling, they are struggling, they need some money to pay for their rent and stuff like that.

KEYES: She says things are so bad in this area the eatery may have to close, like some other small businesses near here.

CHO: We have to pay everything regularly: rent, property taxes, federal taxes, state taxes and the employees, you know, we have to pay them.

TRACEY BOLINGER: It's really, really, really put a damper on the financial state.

KEYES: Tracey Bolinger is operations manager for Royal USA Tours and Transportation. The company's fleet includes buses, vans and trolleys. The trolleys made 450,000 alone last year, but that part of the business is shut down, and it's costing the company a lot to have those trolleys sitting idle.

BOLINGER: Thirty-nine dollars for the morning tour, $39 for an evening tour and $79 for an all-day tour at 47-passenger capacity with three trolleys running around town daily. That's a big loss.


MAYOR VINCE GRAY: Everything in the District of Columbia is essential, ladies and gentlemen.

KEYES: D.C. Mayor Vince Gray is on a campaign to get lawmakers and President Obama to declare the district exempt from the federal shutdown. Under federal law, Washington, D.C., cannot spend its own tax dollars to cover services such as trash collection and police protection without congressional approval. Gray declared local government services essential so the city could run off a contingency fund, but that money is running out.

GRAY: We are facing what no other Americans are facing: the loss of basic municipal or state services due to this federal government shutdown.

KEYES: Civilian federal employees account for 34 percent of the wages and salaries generated in the district, and a quarter of the employed residents here work for the federal government. City officials are projecting a revenue loss of up to $6 million a week in sales and income taxes.

In Maryland's Prince George's County, officials say each day the shutdown continues will cost the county 270,000 in income tax revenues. Arlington County in Virginia is still compiling its numbers, but...

MICHELLE COWAN: We're OK for a short duration shutdown. I think the question is longer term, what it could mean for us.

KEYES: Michelle Cowan is director of Management and Finance for Arlington County. It set aside a $3 million reserve last year in case of sequestration. But Cowan says the county is expecting an effect on revenue levels, thanks to federal workers not buying lunch or doing dry cleaning. And then there is loss of travel for business and tourism. The county is home to Arlington National Cemetery, which is closed along with other attractions.

COWAN: When the museums are shut downtown, people are canceling their trips to Arlington, or to the D.C. area, and they might be staying in Arlington.

KEYES: But the ripple effect is personally devastating to the people who won't get the money lost during the shutdown back and also to those considering life purchases, like Royal USA's Tracey Bolinger.

BOLINGER: I mean, I was just about to purchase a house, and I'm putting that on hold for a moment, you know? Let's just wait and see.

KEYES: Bolinger says it's that kind of thinking that ought to spur lawmakers to end the shutdown and stop hurting the people who live and work in this region. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.