cloudyn.png
Thursday March 21st, 2019 10:34PM

Shutdown squeezing Alabama city built on federal spending

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Once known for its cotton trade and watercress farms, Huntsville, Alabama, is now the ultimate government town: About 70 federal agencies are located at the Army's 38,000-acre Redstone Arsenal. More than half of the area's economy is tied to Washington spending.

As the government shutdown drags into a third week, people and businesses that rely on that federal largesse for their livelihood are showing the strain.

Empty parking lots and darkened offices at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center on Redstone have translated into vacant hotel rooms because out-of-town government workers and contractors aren't coming. Restaurants frequented by federal workers who travel on government spending accounts are struggling, too.

Transportation Security Administration employees working without pay at the city's airport say they are spending their own money to bring in quiches and breakfast rolls as a morale booster. Moms are sharing tips online about free entertainment and buying food in bulk to save a few bucks. The largest credit union has already provided hundreds of bridge loans for struggling families.

"It's a fog with no end in sight," said Michael Northern, an executive with a small company that runs three restaurants outside a main arsenal gate. The lunch crowd is still OK, he said, but dinner dollars have dried up, and business is off at least 35 percent.

"People are just going home and nesting, trying to conserve resources," said Northern, vice president of WJP Restaurant Group. "Imagine being in that posture and hearing Donald Trump say, 'It could be a year.'"

The closure persists because the president and congressional Democrats can't agree on $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall, which Trump touts as vital to U.S. security and critics see as pointless and immoral.

The jobs of some 800,000 workers hang in the balance. A little more than half are still working without pay, and hundreds of thousands will miss paychecks Friday.

Economic statistics lag real-time events, so it's hard to gauge the effects of a shutdown that's been going on less than a month. But in Huntsville, a city of about 195,000 people where more than 5,000 workers are affected, frustration and worry are building.

Located at the base of a mountain in the lush Tennessee Valley, Huntsville was just another Alabama city until the government decided to build rockets at Redstone Arsenal at the dawn of the space race. The influx of people and federal dollars that arrived with NASA transformed the city into a technical and engineering hub that only grew as Army missile and materiel programs expanded on the base.

That heavy reliance on federal spending has Huntsville residents wondering what will come next.

Jack Lyons, a lifelong space geek who thought he'd hit the jackpot when he got a job as a contractor working on massive rocket test stands for NASA, is spending the furlough on his small side business making props for marching bands. A solid Republican voter until 2016, when he couldn't bring himself to vote for Trump, he's frustrated and saddened by what's going on in Washington.

"They're trying to use people as bargaining chips, and it just isn't right," Lyons said. Unlike civil service workers who expect to eventually get back pay, Lyons doesn't know if he'll ever see a dollar from the shutdown period.

Just back from maternity leave following the birth of her second child, Katie Barron works at home for a private company not connected to the government, but her husband is a National Weather Service meteorologist forced to work without pay because his job is classified as essential.

They're canceling this Saturday's date night to save a couple of hundred dollars, and the purchase of a new refrigerator is on hold. They've also put off home and car maintenance, but the $450-a-week bill for day care still has to be paid, as do the mortgage and utility bills.

"We're a little bit buffered, but our lives are basically based off dual incomes," Barron said.

While Barron frets over the loss of dental and optical insurance because of the shutdown, she said her family has some savings and will be fine for a while. Others are struggling.

Redstone Federal Credit Union already has provided hundreds of low-interest loans of as much as $5,000 each to families affected by the shutdown, with no payments due for 60 days, and it's also letting members skip payments on existing loans for a $35 fee, chief marketing officer Fred Trusty said.

"As the days go on, we are seeing more and more traffic head to our branches," he said. The timing of the shutdown couldn't be worse since many families already were stretched thin by holiday spending or starting payments for upcoming summer travel, Trusty said.

Jeff and Sabine Cool, who own a German-style food truck that operates in the heart of the NASA complex, say their income is down about $600 a week since the beginning of the shutdown.

"It kind of hurt a little bit. We're just rolling with the punches," Jeff Cool said Wednesday as he set up tables outside Hildegard's German Wurst Wagon on a bright, windy morning. "I'm glad I'm retired Army and have an additional income, but I feel for the other people."

Cool's sympathy extends to people like Sandra Snell, a TSA officer working without pay at Huntsville International Airport. She hasn't gotten a paycheck since December and wonders what will happen once her savings run out.

The bright spots of the shutdown, she said, are the co-workers who share food and airline passengers who realize that the people checking their identification cards and staffing the X-ray machines are working for free.

"They'll say, 'Thanks for being here.' It helps. It's nice when they realize your value," she said.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Business, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Financial Services
© Copyright 2019 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Shutdown squeezing Alabama city built on federal spending
Southern city that relies on federal spending feels pinch from government shutdown
1:18AM ( 6 minutes ago )
Shutdown suspends federal cleanups at US Superfund sites
The government shutdown has stopped federal work at Superfund sites across the U.S. unless it is determined there is an "imminent threat" to life or property.
1:15AM ( 8 minutes ago )
Bernie Sanders faces questions about political future
Bernie Sanders loyalists ponder fallout as harassment claims persist
1:14AM ( 10 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The shutdown today: Shutdown ties for longest on record
The shutdown today: Shutdown ties for longest on record
12:48AM ( 36 minutes ago )
Sheriff: Jayme Closs found alive, suspect in custody
Authorities in northwestern Wisconsin say a 13-year-old girl who went missing in October after her parents were killed has been found alive
12:33AM ( 50 minutes ago )
The Latest: Trump moves closer to emergency declaration
President Donald Trump took the government shutdown fight to the Mexican border on Thursday, edging closer to declaring a national emergency to fund his long-promised border wall.
11:04PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
US apparel firm cuts off Chinese factory in internment camp
U.S. apparel firm severs ties with Chinese factory in internment camp
7:51PM ( 5 hours ago )
Payday without pay hits federal workers as shutdown drags on
Payday without pay hits federal workers as government shutdown lingers
7:49PM ( 5 hours ago )
Strong economy does little to lift department store sales
A strong economy did little to lift department store sales over the holidays
7:22PM ( 6 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Asian stocks rise on Fed restraint, U.S-China trade hopes
Asian markets are mostly higher as investors cheer a more reactive Federal Reserve and U.S.-China trade talks
11:23PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP source: 2B Dozier, Nationals agree to $9M, 1-year deal
Free-agent second baseman Brian Dozier and the Washington Nationals have agreed to a $9 million, one-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations tells The Associated Press
10:33PM ( 2 hours ago )
AT&T to end all location-data sales to data brokers
AT&T will stop selling customer location data to third-party brokers, even if that information was used in helpful circumstances such as roadside assistance
9:21PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Business
Shutdown suspends federal cleanups at US Superfund sites
The government shutdown has stopped federal work at Superfund sites across the U.S. unless it is determined there is an "imminent threat" to life or property.
1:15AM ( 8 minutes ago )
Bernie Sanders faces questions about political future
Bernie Sanders loyalists ponder fallout as harassment claims persist
1:14AM ( 10 minutes ago )
Aldridge scores 56, Spurs outlast Thunder 154-147 in 2OT
LaMarcus Aldridge scored a career-high 56 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame Russell Westbrook's triple-double with 24 points, 24 rebounds and 13 assists and outlasted the Oklahoma City Thunder for a 154-147 victory in double-overtime
1:08AM ( 16 minutes ago )
Federal workers seek loans, second jobs as shutdown lingers
Families are making tough decisions as 800,000 federal employees miss their first paycheck Friday because of the government shutdown
1:06AM ( 17 minutes ago )
Ex-Nissan chair Ghosn indicted for alleged breach of trust
Ex-Nissan chair Ghosn indicted for alleged breach of trust
1:05AM ( 19 minutes ago )