2,000 miles from DC, anger over shutdown is still deeply held

People in California are worried about adverse economic effects of Congress’ failure to pass a budget

Fayetta Kissell, 74, a retired phone operator from Sun Valley, worries that the shutdown will cut retail sales. Her daughter works for Toys R Us.
Sadaf Syed for Al Jazeera America

BURBANK, Calif. – Military personnel will still get paid, Social Security and Medicare checks will still go out, and the mail will still get delivered, but that doesn’t soften the frustration felt by Fayetta Kissell at the first mention of a government shutdown.

“I don’t like it,” said the retired phone operator on her way out of a U.S. Post Office in Burbank. “Hopefully, they get off their stool or whatever they’re sitting on.”

“They” are the Washington politicians who couldn’t resolve the budget impasse in time to avert a shutdown the federal government.

Kissell may not be directly affected, but her daughter works at Toys R Us, and she knows that if people aren’t getting paid, sales will drop.

“People are not going to have money,” said Kissell, a Sun Valley resident. “Most of us live paycheck to paycheck.”

More than 2,000 miles away from the center of the budget debate, the specter of a shutdown didn’t loom as large as in the nation’s capital. A vendor at the Burbank Town Center mall respectfully declined to discuss the standoff because he knew nothing about it.

But among those who haven’t escaped the news, even those who don’t expect to be directly affected, many are angry.

Burbank resident Bill Price, 74, a Navy veteran who goes to Veteran Affairs hospitals for a condition that damages his nerves, said few people would notice a shutdown at first because agencies have been preparing for it.

“But everybody eventually will be affected,” he said. “Everybody.”

Price, a former data processor, had a few choice words for Congress. Politicians would take action only if a shutdown upset their lives, he said.

Outside Burbank’s Social Security Administration office before the shutdown began, Alan Feinberg didn’t mince words either.

“It’s profoundly stupid,” said Feinberg, 79, a Studio City resident who retired from film production. “Part of the Republicans are holding the whole thing hostage.”

A shutdown seemed likely, but employees in the Social Security office he just visited “seem in very good spirits,” he said.

The stalemate would eventually lead to job losses, and those who refuse to compromise would then blame the administration for rising unemployment, Feinberg said. “If a Wal-Mart store’s business is down 10%, they lay off 10%,” he said. “If it lasts long enough to force us to renege on our debt payment, it will affect the whole world.”

“We have to keep the money rolling in this country,” Kissell said. “Keep it moving.”

Jason Laiche, 43, called the whole brouhaha “partisan junk.” He figured that a shutdown would last maybe two weeks. “They’re really going to have to do something,” said Laiche, a Burbank resident who buys and sells items on eBay. “They’re like spoiled children who don’t get what they want.”

Meanwhile, reactions from Burbank’s political class echoed opinions heard on the street.

Although air-traffic personnel will continue to work and Social Security checks will not stop, Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy worried that a shutdown would eventually slow payments of federal benefits.

“Certainly it will slow down housing vouchers,” she said. “Real lives are affected.”

During the last shutdown, in 1996, “it ended up affecting national parks, national monuments, Housing and Urban Development vouchers,” Gabel-Luddy said. “Regular folks who are trying to get by day to day are affected.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, said a shutdown would lead to furloughs at California’s 26 national parks, including Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve, and many would close. It would stop vehicle-safety tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and halt economic-development and housing programs, and California National Guard employees would be furloughed, he said.

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