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The Government Shutdown in Washington D.C

At a recent event to sign the LOVE act into law, Bowser – flanked by grateful newlyweds – said, “Just so my team knows, we’re probably going to want to keep that power.”

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District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, seated, holds the LOVE Act she signed, Jan. 11, 2019. VOA

No city experiences a shutdown quite like Washington.

Besides the economic impact, a shutdown warps the nation’s capital on a cultural, recreational and logistical level — touching everybody from garbage collectors to young parents, prospective newlyweds to aspiring Eagle Scouts.

The current partial shutdown , now in a record fourth week, has also provided a quiet boon for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s government, which rushed into the void to claim unprecedented new powers while making a public show of literally cleaning up the federal government’s mess.

The economic situation is, of course, brutal. Recent surveys estimate that the federal government directly employs more than 364,000 people in the greater Washington area including northern Virginia and southern Maryland. The District of Columbia alone — population 700,000 — contains more than 102,000 jobs in agencies that are now without appropriations funding.

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People rally to call for an end to the partial government shutdown in Detroit, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

Deputy City Administrator Kevin Donahue made the analogy to the main plant shutting down in a factory town — with the subsequent knock-on effect through the service industries like restaurants, food trucks, entertainment and taxis.

“What keeps us up at night is not the work we know we have to do in weeks one and two,” Donahue said. It’s the unpredictable impacts of weeks four and five and onward, he said, with the potential for mass restaurant closures or residents missing payments on rent, mortgages, car loans or school fees.

Most immediately, the shutdown created a logistical and public health problem. The district is riddled with National Park Service land, ranging from the National Mall to urban green spaces like Dupont Circle and dozens of neighborhood parks.

Washington sanitation crews now empty the trash bins at 122 separate NPS sites — three times a day in the case of the bins at the National Mall. It’s costing at least $54,000 per week in overtime, and Donahue said there’s a handshake agreement dating back to previous shutdowns that Washington will be compensated when the government reopens. The NPS recently announced it would tap into other funds to resume its own trash pickup at some — but not all — of the Washington sites.

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A U.S. Internal Revenue Services employee holds signs in front of the federal building at a rally against the U.S. federal government shutdown, in Ogden, Utah, Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

“There’s a past practice of reimbursement,” Donahue said. “But they don’t have a legal obligation to compensate us.”

Given Washington’s tortured relationship with the federal government, which can essentially alter or block any local law, city officials have seemingly relished the chance to highlight the ironies of the moment. They frequently claim they are treated by Congress as if they can’t handle their own affairs; now they’re taking over and covering for a dysfunctional central government.

“When the federal government shuts down, we step up,” Bowser said during a Jan. 4 news conference with Washington’s nonvoting congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, to announce a renewed push this year for district statehood.

The shutdown cuts a cultural swath through the lives of city residents. The entire Smithsonian network of museums, including the zoo , closed their doors about a week into the shutdown, and quasi-federal entities like the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts have severely cut back their hours.

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Air passengers heading to their departure gates enter TSA precheck before going through security screening at Orlando International Airport, June 21, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (VOA)

On a recent weekend, the usual Saturday morning kids’ drumming workshop at the BloomBars cultural center in Columbia Heights drew nearly triple the usual crowd, with parents and strollers lined halfway up the block in the rain. The reason: desperate parents searching for something to occupy their kids in a city where more than a dozen free museums and the zoo have been shuttered.

“It happens every time,” laughed BloomBars founder John Chambers, who recalls an identical spike during the 16-day 2013 shutdown. “But this time it feels like there’s more of a panic among people because (this shutdown) genuinely seems open-ended.”

The district is littered with shutdown specials — offering furloughed federal employees discounts on everything from food and drink to live theater and medical marijuana .

Examples of unexpected shutdown fallout are all around. High school senior Yosias Zelalem was all set to secure his Eagle Scout rank with a project to repair park benches along the Mount Vernon Trail. But his liaison at the NPS has been furloughed and the project is frozen.

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Tourists arrive to visit the U.S. Capitol on a rainy morning in Washington, Dec. 28, 2018, during a partial government shutdown.. VOA

“I didn’t really think about it until New Year’s came and went,” said Zelalem, who needs to complete the project before he turns 18 on March 27. “I honestly didn’t expect it to go on this long. Now everybody’s talking like this could go for months.”

One of the more random side-effects of shutdown: the closure of the marriage bureau.

Bowser told The Associated Press that even she was surprised to learn that local couples couldn’t get their marriage licenses because Congress funds the local court system. Divorce proceedings, however, were unaffected.

Also Read: Democrats in Congress Squarely Responsible for the Shutdown: Donald Trump

Bowser quickly tapped allies on the Council of the District of Columbia to pass emergency legislation called the Let Our Vows Endure (LOVE) act, which granted her administration the right to issue marriage licenses. In addition to an enjoyable public victory that drew national attention, Bowser’s administration just stepped into the federal void to claim a whole new power ahead of an impending district statehood push.

At a recent event to sign the LOVE act into law, Bowser – flanked by grateful newlyweds – said, “Just so my team knows, we’re probably going to want to keep that power.”

Nobody laughed and she didn’t seem to be joking. (VOA)

Next Story

New Rule in USA to Allow Passengers to Bring Pet Animals on Flight

New Rules Could Bump Emotional-Support Animals From Planes

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Airlines can now let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply. Pixabay

The days of passengers bringing rabbits, turtles and birds on planes as emotional-support animals could be ending.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed that only specially trained dogs qualify as service animals, which must be allowed in the cabin at no charge. Airlines could let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply.

Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. They also imposed their own restrictions in response to passengers who show up at the airport with pigs, pheasants, turkeys, snakes and other unusual pets.

“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals that perform a task to mitigate our disability,” said Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, which advocates for accessibility for people of different ability levels.

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Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. Pixabay

Tighter rules praised

The U.S. airline industry trade group praised the tighter rules. Industry officials believe that hundreds of thousands of passengers scam the system each year by claiming they need their pet for emotional support. Those people avoid airline pet fees, which are generally more than $100 each way.

“Airlines want all passengers and crew to have a safe and comfortable flying experience, and we are confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone,” said Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America.

Flight attendants had pushed to rein in support animals, too, and were pleased with Wednesday’s proposed changes.

“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. The union chief said untrained pets had hurt some of her members.

Veterans groups pleased

Veterans groups have sided with the airlines, arguing that a boom in untrained dogs and other animals threatens their ability to fly with properly trained service dogs. Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional-support animals in airline cabins.

“It’s just interesting how people want to have the benefits of having a disability without actually losing the use of their limbs or senses just so they can take their pet with them,” Rizzi said.

Southwest Airlines handles more than 190,000 emotional support animals per year. American Airlines carried 155,790 emotional support animals in 2017, up 48% from 2016, while the number of checked pets dropped 17%. United Airlines carried 76,000 comfort animals in 2017.

Department officials said in a briefing with reporters that they are proposing the changes to ensure safety on flights. They also said some passengers have abused the current rules.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed changes, and they could take effect any time after that.

The Transportation Department proposes a narrow definition of a service animal — it would be a dog that is trained to help a person with a physical or other disability. Passengers who want to travel with a service dog will have to fill out a federal form on which they swear that the dog is trained to help them with their disability. A dog that is trained to help a passenger with psychiatric needs would continue to qualify as a service animal.

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Oscar the cat, who is not a service animal, sits in his carry on travel bag after arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. VOA

Note from medical professional

Currently, passengers have been allowed to bring many other animals if they have a medical professional’s note saying they need the animal for emotional support.

The proposal would prohibit airlines from banning particular types of dog breeds — Delta Air Lines bans pit bulls, for example — but airline employees could refuse to board any animal that they consider a threat to other people.

The president of the Humane Society of the United States said airlines had “maligned” pit bulls by banning them. Kitty Block said the Transportation Department’s rule against breed-specific prohibitions “sends a clear message to airlines that their discriminatory practices are not only unsound, but against the law.”

The new rules would also bar the current practice by many airlines of requiring animal owners to fill out paperwork 48 hours in advance. A department official said that practice can harm disabled people by preventing them from bringing their service dog on last-minute trips. But airlines could still require forms attesting to an animal’s good behavior and health, which could present challenges if the form has to be completed by a specific institution, Rizzi said.

Also Read- Spain Takes a Step Forward to Combat Climate Change

The proposal also says people with service animals must check in earlier than the general public, and would end the rarely seen use of miniature horses as service animals, although a Transportation Department official indicated the agency is open to reconsidering that provision.

Airlines could require that service animals be on a leash or harness and fit in its handler’s foot space. They could limit passengers to two service animals each, although it is unclear how often that happens under the current rules. (VOA)