At midnight this morning, the partial federal government shutdown that began Dec. 22 became the longest in American history, as President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats clash over the president's proposal for $5.7 billion to fund border security, including a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
On Friday, more than 800,000 federal workers -- more than half of whom are still working -- did not receive paychecks as their departments remain closed. Though a bill passed both houses of Congress this week requiring that all employees, including those who have been furloughed, be paid as soon as possible once the government reopens, news outlets throughout the country have documented a palpable sense of anxiety and frustration from workers and their families.
In the Brazos Valley, the shutdown has had varied impacts. Texas A&M University and Blinn College, as well as primary and secondary school systems, remain largely unaffected, at least directly, due to their funding sources. Brazos County Judge Duane Peters said the county's government operations have not been directly affected by the shutdown. "Maybe we will down the road, but there's nothing that I'm aware of at this point," Peters said.
Some offices, including the United States Department of Agriculture office on Holleman Road, are closed, and some area federal workers have been furloughed, including Warren Finch, director of the George H.W. Bush Library and Museum.
Chris Aronen, mass care and emergency assistance group supervisor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is another one of the thousands of federal employees stuck in "limbo" waiting for the government to reopen.
"I'm just kind of sitting around. I don't really know what to do," he said. "It's a weird situation to be in."
Employed to work disasters, Aronen was in Houston for Hurricane Harvey, spent two months in Hawaii following the Kilauea volcano eruption in September and recently returned from a month-long deployment in Saipan after Super Typhoon Yutu hit the island in 2018.
Though considered "essential" staff on deployments, when he is at home in Bryan with his partner, Ryan, he is one of the many unpaid federal employees unable to work.
Like other FEMA employees, Aronen got into the federal government to help people, not for the pay. However, he still has a mortgage and other bills due.
In addition to personal bills, he also has a $2,000 bill on the government credit card he must use to cover lodging and travel during deployments. For three weeks, though, that has not been paid because the person responsible for approving such funding is furloughed. It will eventually have to be paid, and if the government is not open by that time, it will have to come out of his savings.
"I'll have to start making minimal payments on it, things like that. Honestly, it's kind of scary. I don't really know what's going to happen."
Though funding for disasters is done differently than the rest of the Department of Homeland Security, he said, if the shutdown lasts a year, there may not be funding for disasters, either. Much of that response will be up to FEMA partners, many of which are nonprofits that rely on federal support for disaster relief.
"Right now, 800,000 federal workers, they're seeing the brunt of it, but as this progresses, more and more of the general public are going to start seeing it too, and it's not going to be good," he said, citing unpaid TSA employees and citizens who depend on government aid for basic needs, such as food and housing.
The Transportation Security Officers seen by travelers at the security checkpoint at Easterwood Airport are also among the government employees considered "essential."
They may get back pay, said Joshua Abramson, manager for Easterwood Airport Management, but there is not any payroll for those 10 to 15 officers to receive.
"They're not getting paid to be at work for the job they're doing, but we go up there and they have smiles and they're helping the customers and they're showing up to work," Abramson said about the local TSOs, who would be difficult to replace because of the certification they hold.
The shutdown has not impacted the airports general operations, though. On Friday afternoon, flights were still moving as scheduled, air traffic controllers remained at their posts and some military aircraft were conducting training.
He said the shutdown has had other residual effects, though, but they have not directly impacted Easterwood. The Flight Standards District Office, which coordinates flyovers, is closed, and the Regional Airline Association has stated no new pilot certifications are being approved during the shutdown.
George H.W. Bush Library and Museum
The library's rotunda, its gift store and the gravesite of President Bush have been accessible to the public since late December amid the partial government shutdown, according to David Jones, CEO of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation. The rotunda houses the Bush memorial exhibit, but other exhibits remain closed to visitors.
"It's unfortunate, because with the death of President Bush and Mrs. Bush, the interest in coming to the library hasn't been this high in a very long time. When people come to the library not knowing it's closed, they are very disappointed, and there's not a thing we can do," Jones said.
Jones said the foundation is covering security costs for the facility's partial opening, and the foundation will continue to keep some parts of the museum open.
"We see no reason why we can't keep that going for as long as the shutdown goes on," he said.
On Friday, a quintet of visitors inside the rotunda of the Bush Library and Museum tried to name all of "the five" -- the five men depicted in the 1997 oil canvas "Resolution," which depicts Dick Cheney, James Baker, George H.W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell in the Oval Office just before the start of Operation Desert Storm in 1990. Among the guessers was Roger Santiago, head of the Sediment Remediation Unit for Environment Canada in Toronto, Ontario. He and his wife, Marcia, had come by the museum following Roger's time as a guest lecturer for the Texas A&M Engineering dredging short course, which ran this week.
"Especially after Bush's passing last December, and hearing the great testimonials and speeches about his life, we wanted to come by and see this," Santiago said. A security employee said Friday that the Santiagos were among several hundreds who visited the library and museum this week.
U.S. Department of Agriculture & Brazos County Food Bank
The USDA office on Holleman Drive East is closed after USDA Farm Service Agency county offices shut at the end of business on Dec. 28. A USDA statement clarified that eligible households will still receive monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for January, and child and adult nutrition programs would continue into February.
Meat, poultry, and processed egg inspection services, as well as grain and other commodity inspections, will continue.
Theresa Mangapora, executive director of the Brazos Valley Food Bank, said that 18 percent of the food that the food bank distributes is from the USDA through the Texas Department of Agriculture.
"It is called The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), otherwise known as commodities," Mangapora said Thursday. "We have learned from Feeding America, the nation's food bank network, that food ordered and confirmed prior to the shutdown for TEFAP entitlement, bonus, and trade mitigation should still be delivered for January through March. Any new TEFAP entitlement orders cannot happen until the government is funded."
In past shutdowns, Mangapora said, the food bank has continued to provide services received reimbursement retroactively once the government reopened.
"We haven't heard differently from the State of Texas Health and Human Services Commission at this point," she said.
"We are encouraged by the news that SNAP benefits won't be disrupted in February," Mangapora continued. "Though if the shutdown continues, it could force cuts in SNAP and other food programs that will lead to increased hunger in Texas and the Brazos Valley. We are ready to help all residents of the Brazos Valley affected by the shutdown, but we do not have the means to make up for any significant loss of SNAP benefits."
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) state public affairs director Beverly Moseley said that NRCS, an agency of the USDA, is open.
"During a government shutdown, agencies that receive mandatory funding or have funds appropriated in prior years that are carried forward can continue to serve customers using that money," Moseley, who is based in Temple, said Friday morning.
Brazos Valley Community Action Programs
Though most of the programs operated by the Brazos Valley Action Programs are funded through the Department of Health and Human Services, the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program and Child and Adult Care Food Program are funded by money the state receives from the United States Department of Agriculture.
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which is associated with Head Start, can be covered by Head Start funds, but that same cushion is not available for WIC, BVCAP Interim Executive Director Bobby Hubley said.
The latest update Hubley has received is that the state has funding to support local WIC programs through the end of February and possibly into March. The state and National WIC Association have encouraged local WIC programs to continue seeing clients and spending money as they normally would, though he does not know if that is because they believe the shutdown will end before March 1 or if there are alternative funding plans in place.
If WIC runs out of funding, in a "worst-case scenario," he said, local WIC offices could have to shut down. Even if they are allowed to remain open, the state will not be able to fill 6,000 local clients' WIC debit cards used to purchase food.
Texas A&M impacts
Texas A&M students will not see any disruption in scholarships and federal financial aid after guidance the university received from the U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday allows colleges and universities to accept signed tax returns instead of requiring students to submit tax transcripts from the IRS, which is closed during the shutdown.
"In terms of student loan money and federal PELL grants, none of that has been halted," Delisa Falks, assistant vice president for scholarships and financial aid at Texas A&M, said. "It's been running business as usual, so we've had no problem."
The university is receiving student loan and PELL grant money and began dispersing those funds on Jan. 5.
Texas A&M Forest Service communications manager Linda Moon said the effects on her agency have been "minimal at this point."
"We are still able to obtain emergency response resources should we need them in the event of an incident," Moon said. "We do work with federal entities -- primarily the U.S. Forest Service -- and some of our projects and initiatives are funded through their grant process. During this shutdown, we are unable to submit payment requests for reimbursements."
She added, as many did, that limits and challenges will likely grow if the shutdown continues for an extended amount of time.
"For example, one factor we are monitoring is with the positive confirmation of the tree-killing emerald ash borer in Tarrant County, the trapping and monitoring supplies that are provided through USDA are currently being delayed," she said.
Parr Rosson, interim director for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, said neither AgriLife, nor its counterparts at Prairie View A&M Cooperative Extension, have seen direct effects from the shutdown. "While the federal government shutdown has not directly affected [AgriLife], we do receive some federal funding and work closely with many federal agencies," Rosson said in a statement to The Eagle.
"Supported by state, federal and county governments, we will continue to fulfill our land-grant mission, helping Texans in all 254 counties across the state, and will adjust our operations when and if necessary," Rosson added.