The lengthy government shutdown isn’t just wreaking havoc in the halls of Congress; it is also the root cause of much angst and confusion among citizens across the country, including Queens. Unfortunately, borough residents of all ages already have begun feeling the impacts from the latest episode of Washington gridlock.
While politicians battle on Capitol Hill as the shutdown enters its second week, many Queens residents have been left wondering how the federal chaos will affect them.
Furloughed federal employees face uncertain short-term futures and lighter wallets, as a House bill to provide them with back pay has stalled in the Senate. National parks and museums are closed. The delivery of Hurricane Sandy relief funds could be delayed. The distribution of Social Security benefits will continue, but services like issuing new Social Security cards have ceased.
“I just came in here to see if mailing a disability questionnaire late will affect my son’s benefits,” an 81-year-old Howard Beach woman said as she left the Rego Park Social Security office. “All the supervisor told me was that he doesn’t know, that he couldn’t help me.”
For some, that frustration has turned into anger.
“It was a bad experience in there,” the woman added. “One man was so mad, he nearly punched the worker through the glass window.”
It isn’t just the borough’s elderly and disabled who have come face to face with the shutdown; some Queens students are feeling the impacts as well.
After a two-year legal battle, the Immaculate Conception School’s Aquinas Honor Society in Jamaica Estates was recently given permission to hang a plaque on the Joseph Addabbo Social Security building in Jamaica, honoring George Washington’s single night’s stay in the neighborhood in 1790. The plaque unveiling ceremony was to be held at the school on Oct. 8, but it has been postponed indefinitely because furloughed General Service Administration representatives could not be present to accept the plaque on behalf of the federal government.
“It did not dawn on me that my students would be directly involved with the government shutdown,” Aquinas Honor Society moderator Carl Ballenas said. “When I announced to them that it was cancelled, there was real shock on their faces. The shutdown had affected them directly and they were stunned.”
The members of Congress representing their Queens constituents have all voiced their support for the end of the shutdown, with Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) saying in a statement on Oct. 1 that the shutdown is “not good for anybody.”
“It wastes valuable time dealing with many of the important issues Americans need the House and Senate to tackle such as further strengthening our economy, raising the debt ceiling and other critical problems that require our attention,” the statement continued. “I urge Congress to do what is right for our country and end the shutdown.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens) echoes Meng’s sentiments in a statement offering a laundry list of issues regarding the shutdown.
“Delays in Sandy aid could lead to a longer wait time for grants and loans that business owners are relying on,” Maloney said. “In a different vein, people may not be able to visit certain tourist attractions in Queens and the Army Corps of Engineers isn’t inspecting projects.”
Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) wants his constituents to know that even though the government has shut down, he will still be there to assist anyone.
“The shutdown is affecting all American citizens, including residents in my congressional district in a negative way,” Meeks said. “Aside from the fact that the shutdown is harmful to our economy, it is affecting many on a personal level. To help manage the harmful effects of the shutdown, my office has been open and assisting constituents to whatever degree possible.”