Projections about when the federal government shutdown will end remained sketchy Wednesday morning.
With a robust federal workforce, Loudoun County is one locality that has been seeking answers since the government partially shut down on Dec. 22.
“It is not good for business,” Loudoun Chamber President and CEO Tony Howard said. “But the question remains how long this will drag on because the longer it drags on the more negative impact there will be on local businesses and the federal workforce, which is a substantial part consumer base in northern Virginia.”
President Donald Trump and Congress failed to fund the government when the president demanded, but did not receive, $5 billion to fund a border wall between parts of the United States and Mexico. The ongoing dispute has impacted more than 400,000 federal workers, most of whom are uncertain when they'll receive paychecks.
Many federal workers who live in Loudoun County have been furloughed or forced to work without pay.
Howard compared the situation to the budget sequestration of 2013 that cut spending in defense and non-defense categories to reduce the national debt. The shutdown is just another concern for federal contractors and workers.
“When people stop being paid and stop spending it affects the whole economy,” Reston Limo President and CEO Kristina Bouweiri said.
Bouweiri, who has been in the shuttle service business for nearly 30 years, said revenue from the federal government accounted for a large part of the company’s revenue. Recalling a 10-day shutdown in the past, Bouweiri is concerned about the impact for contractors that rely heavily on federal government spending.
“It’s really bad for everybody,” Bouweiri said. “ ... if the government shuts down [and] there is a clause that says if we don’t provide the service, we don’t get paid. We still have to pay our expenses for labor, but it’s also affecting the employees.”
Federal workers were also hoping to receive a pay increase after the new year following approval by the U.S. Senate. However, that measure was blocked by the president, stating the budget “cannot sustain such increases.”
On New Year’s Eve, Trump issued an executive order freezing the pay rates for non-military federal workers. A handful of U.S. senators, including Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) of Virginia, sent a letter urging the president to reverse the decision.
"There should be a particular sense of urgency in bolstering, rather than undermining, the competitiveness of the federal workforce considering that the share of federal employees eligible for retirement is expected to jump to 30 percent in five years," the senators wrote. "As a businessman, we would expect you to understand the importance of human capital investments in recruiting and retaining talented employees. We are deeply troubled that you would abdicate your responsibility to ensure the sustainability of the federal workforce—particularly while so many federal employees are actively working without pay during a shutdown triggered by your own equivocation.”
A White House briefing about the shutdown and border wall is being held Wednesday, according to media reports.
The Virginia Employment Commission has already started helping federal employees seek compensation benefits in Virginia. Employees can visit vec.virginia.gov for more information.
Howard hopes some “compromise” will happen soon.
"All around it’s a particularly sad story, one that we hope is resolved pretty soon," the chamber CEO said.