COOS COUNTY — More than a month has passed since certain federal government agencies were shut down internally and the Oregon Employment Department has noticed an influx of applications for unemployment benefits from federal workers seeking assistance.
The federal standard in this type of scenario that states are supposed to try to meet is a 21-day waiting period before the applicant receives payment.
“This is normally our high workload, but the federal workload is up significantly,” said David Gerstenfeld with the Oregon Employment Department. “The unemployment system wasn’t really designed with the expectation of people who are required to work but aren’t getting paid. So some of the scenarios we’re running into are not typical ones.”
One of the challenges is that claims made by federal workers for unemployment require that the state verify the applicant’s income with federal agencies. A process that can be difficult when in the federal agency with the requisite information are also shut down.
“If it’s someone who works for a private employer, or for the state government, local government, or anyone else, we already have income reports we get quarterly,” Gerstenfeld said. “The federal government doesn’t file those kinds of reports, so we have to ask them to provide that information whenever someone files a claim, and that could take some time.”
A service provided by the Oregon Employment Department is to find those applying for assistance potential work opportunities. A number of furloughed folks who have applied for state unemployment assistance have held interim positions in the private sector like they’ve been suggested. However, there are many who cannot take interim work because it creates a conflict of interest when they return to their federal jobs.
“In federal and state law there are statutes that require people who are seeking benefits to each week be actively looking for work…We have changed that standard for people who are impacted by the federal shutdown,” Gerstenfeld said.
According to Gerstenfeld, this time of year is when most people looking for unemployment assistance seek it out. Numbers from Dec. 21, 2018 to Jan. 17, 2019 show that there were 2,750 federal employees who applied for government assistance in the state of Oregon. Compared to 560 claims in the same time period one year prior.
Now, not all of these people applying are impacted by the shutdown. According to Gerstsenfeld, they regularly have people who are applying for unemployment whether there’s a shutdown or not.
WASHINGTON — At this time of year, John Sprinkle and his wife would normally be planning their summer vacation. Not now. Sprinkle, a furloughed federal employee, is about to miss his second paycheck since the partial government shutdown began just before Christmas.
With no end in sight to the longest shutdown in American history, Sprinkle and his family are postponing all manner of spending.
"We were thinking of getting a new computer, but that's not going to happen," he said. "We're not really eating out like we normally would be. We are not going out to events like we would be."
Multiply those decisions by 800,000 federal employees across the country and hundreds of thousands of government contractors who aren't being paid either, and the shutdown looms as an accelerating threat to the wider economy.
The shutdown's biggest effect on the economy is likely to be the cutback in federal spending. But consumer spending, which is critical to growth, is another important factor.
When government employees spend less, stores and restaurants that serve them suffer. So do landlords and lenders that do business with federal workers. Though spending and growth will rebound once the government reopens, most of the restaurant meals missed and hotel stays canceled will never be made up.
"Creditors and suppliers hit by the shutdown will become less patient if it drags on," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a research note. "People and businesses are being hurt by the shutdown, and the pain will intensify."
If the shutdown drags on through March, annual economic growth could fall to zero in the first three months of the year. Even if the government reopens by the end of the month, the annual pace of growth could be a meager 1.6 percent — only half the pace of last quarter, said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.
Kevin Hassett, a top White House economist, acknowledged in an interview on CNN that growth could be flat in the first quarter, though Hassett suggested that a "humongous" rebound would follow. Yet some independent economists doubt that the rebound would be enough to offset the initial damage. The economy is already bedeviled by slowing global growth, ongoing trade tensions and higher interest rates, which contributed to a plunge in home sales last month.
Bernard Baumohl, chief economist at the Economic Outlook Group, suggested that once the government reopened, many households would focus on repaying credit card debt and restoring lost savings — trends that would slow the rebound.
For now, there are hints that the shutdown is slowing retail sales. A measure of weekly chain store sales fell 1.3 percent last week, its second straight drop. Cold weather likely contributed to the fall, said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the consulting firm Retail Economist, but the shutdown may also have contributed.
It's hard to know just how much the shutdown is depressing consumer spending because the Commerce Department, which compiles and reports such data, was itself closed by the shutdown.
Anecdotal evidence, though, suggests that the trend is spreading. Even federal workers with solid finances are holding back. Sprinkle, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, knows he will eventually be paid, and his wife is still earning a paycheck. Their two children are out of the house, in college, and he knows he could borrow against his home equity if he had to.
Still, "the effect is more psychological," he said.
The shutdown began on the day of his 20th anniversary working for the National Park Service, where he is now a historian. His Mac computer is roughly eight years old and will no longer update with the latest operating software. But he is postponing a replacement.
The impact of the shutdown is evident beyond Washington. Officials in New Orleans announced Wednesday that they are waiving late fees for federal workers who have fallen behind on their property taxes.
Also Wednesday, in Philadelphia, a hunger relief organization set up a market for furloughed federal workers under an Interstate 95 overpass. Stefanie Arck-Baynes, a spokeswoman for the group, Philabundance, said they had expected 150 to 300 people. But by 11 a.m., they had already served 300, and the lines were growing.
The organization extended the hour-long event to meet demand. Tables were set up with lines of fresh produce, bread, milk and canned goods.
It was the first time the group had offered an "emergency food response" in Philadelphia in its 35-year history, Arck-Baynes said.
James Grant was there stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables. At 64, he is diabetic and must take care with his diet. Grant has worked for 40 years as a maintenance engineer at Independence National Historical Park, which includes Independence Hall, the First Bank of the United States and the Liberty Bell.
The shutdown, of course, also affects millions of relatives of federal workers. Grant has an adult son who is in a nursing home after becoming disabled years ago in a car accident. He said he has had to stop sending him money.
COQUILLE — When Hollie Tetreault discovered roller derby, it was the perfect meld of sports and skating, both of which she had been involved in for most of her life.
“I grew up skating at the old skate rink on the waterfront,” she said. “When I met some girls roller skating at a park who said they did roller derby, it became the new love of my life.”
The Adventure Coast Star Stompers are starting the competition season up again, beginning this Saturday, Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. in the Coquille Community Building.
The Star Stompers, of which Tetreault is now the president, were formed in 2014 and currently have 14 girls on the team, though up to 15 can compete together.
“We’ve had girls from the beginning and members that come and go,” Tetreault said. “We play women’s flat track roller derby with teams from all over Oregon and Northern California.”
This weekend, the Star Stompers are playing Air Raid roller derby out of Hillsboro.
“It’s not the same roller derby most people know from the ‘60s,” Tetreault said. “It’s much more of an organized sport with rules about conduct and safety.”
Over the years, those rules have been added to ban parts of the body that can be hit or used to hit. For example, Tetreault said players can’t hit others with their skates, can’t trip or kick below the knee, or hit with a helmet. However, contact is allowed to the front of the body below the collar bone.
“We wear full protective gear, but that’s not to say we can’t be rough,” Tetreault said. “It’s like rugby. Our average speed is 15 miles an hour. We’re going fast on wheels, which is why we use protective gear.”
Though Tetreault has always loved playing sports and skating, she has found the most rewarding part of roller derby is the camaraderie.
“These awesome women uplift each other, help each other with everything and not just roller derby,” she said. “We get knocked down and we help each other back up. Even the teams we play against, we may be rough and tumble during the game but once it’s over we are hugging and celebrating.”
Tetreault has watched some girls come in and lose hundreds of pounds, while others gained weight as they built muscle. She has seen others build confidence. For her, it keeps her physically fit and strong.
“We play year-round, but take breaks,” she said, pointing to July, August and December as the three months in the year when the team doesn’t practice or compete.
She is working to finish the competition schedule for the year, which will be posted on the team’s Facebook page at “Adventure Coast Roller Derby” or “Star Stompers.”