The federal government shutdown is about to enter its second week with no resolution in sight. Some furloughed government workers might have enjoyed having a day or two off. But the shutdown is starting to have consequences big and small – especially in California military communities.
The last place Aja Smith wants to be on a workday is standing on a street corner across the street from where she works. Smith, who works as an IT tech, is among several hundred civilian employees furloughed earlier this week from March Air Reserve Base near Riverside. She joined a group of co-workers for a rally outside the base’s front gates on Thursday. Smith filed for unemployment on Tuesday. “It’s just me, my mom and grandma. You know, I can’t really drive that far because of the gas prices and everything else. I’ve been in Moreno Valley since 1988, so I’ve seen our economy go up and down and right now, this isn’t helping,” she said.
Civilian employees at March Air Reserve Base are just coming back from one-day-a-week furloughs imposed earlier this year after another federal budget impasse. Those ended just in time for the current government shutdown. Airplane mechanic Andrew Ryan says he plans on being out here every day he’s locked out of work. “A lot of us are veterans working now for the United States government. We are holding our ground. It’s time for both parties to make a decision on our behalf, and the best interest of us. If we were rich men like the guys in Congress we could probably tough this out for years. But we’re not millionaires here, not rich guys,” he said.
A sign taped to the front door of the March Air Reserve Base commissary near Riverside.
The commissary sits on the outskirts of the base. It’s like a general store for active duty personnel and for the area’s large community of retired airmen and women. The store is usually open every day. But now, because of the shutdown, the parking lot is empty, the doors are locked, and there’s sign taped to the front door that says: “Due to the U.S federal government shutdown, this commissary is closed.”
Economist John Husing has been studying the economies of the Inland Empire in Southern California long enough to remember what happened the last time the government shut down 17 years ago. “You’ve got companies whose cash flow is not all that strong, and you take this away from them and oh my God!” he said.
Husing explains the effect on communities that rely on military bases like Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert and Lancaster near Edwards Air Force Base in Kern County is like something out of an Old West movie. It is, said Husing, “where the gold miners bring the money in from the outside world, and then they need the general store, they need the saloon. If you reduce the gold mine, you reduce the money flowing into the civilian economies. Then those parts of the economy get hurt.”
There’s also worry about the hit to private contractors doing business with the military – that could be everything from security and building maintenance to supplying combat hardware . Current military contracts are being honored. But new ones won’t be inked until the government reopens.
Todd Shorack, a furloughed civilian worker from March Air Reserve Base near Riverside rallies outside the base Thursday.
Photographer Douglas McCulloh is working on a project documenting the last free-flowing river in Southern California, the Santa Margarita, part of which snakes through Camp Pendleton Marine base near San Diego. He scheduled a visit to the base weeks in advance, but unfortunately it was on the first day of the shutdown. The project is not tied to a military contract, but McCulloh is dependent on civilian liaisons at Camp Pendleton. “The civilian employees who are involved at Pendleton are furloughed, they’re gone, they’re not getting paid and they’re not doing their job, so I’m directly affected as well. I was scheduled to do it, and all of a sudden at the very last second that ax falls and it doesn’t happen,” McCulloh said.
After the ax fell during the last shutdown 17 years ago, furloughed government workers were able to collect back pay for the money they lost. It’s unclear if they’ll be so lucky this time around.