OGDEN — As the federal government shutdown lingers, thousands of Internal Revenue Service employees in the Ogden area, furloughed, suddenly find themselves with unexpected time on their hands.
That doesn’t necessarily mean rest and relaxation, though. Rather, the shutdown is prompting anxiety and concern among some, said Jenny Brown, president of Local 67 of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents around 4,000 bargaining unit IRS employees in the Ogden area.
“They’re just cutting way back on all their food and worrying,” she said. In fact, many are scaling back spending on all things, unsure when they’ll see their next paycheck.
Ogden-area IRS offices are a major local employer, providing jobs to around 5,000 people in all, including non-unionized managers. Brown estimates that 75 percent of them, roughly 3,750, have been furloughed because of the partial shutdown. Hill Air Force Base, a larger source of federal employment in the area, has not been impacted because the U.S. Department of Defense had already been funded.
“The bottom line is, we want to go back to work,” Brown said.
In past shutdowns, furloughed workers have received retroactive pay for the time they were sidelined from working. But whether to pay furloughed workers will be a decision for the U.S. Congress, Brown said, which, in the interim, creates a measure of uncertainty.
“Will we get paid or not?” she said.
Likewise, if the shutdown lingers, the absence of a paycheck can create hardship for those who don’t have extensive savings’ accounts to tap in the interim. Some could have problems in the near-term making rent or mortgage payments, said Alvaro La Parra Perez, an assistant professor of economics at Weber State University.
“We still have kids, we still have families. We have parents we take care of,” Brown said. And if the shutdown extends into tax-filing season, which typically starts in late January, more workers would likely be called to work, but not get pay pending resolution of the funding impasse.
Tim VandenBerg, a former Congressional Budget Office analyst who now handles investment research out of Ogden for institutional investors, said the shutdown could cause impacted workers to hold off on big-ticket purchases, like appliances or cars. Presuming the shutdown ends and furloughed workers get back pay, such acquisitions would just be put off.
The more concrete impact to the local economy may be a scaling back by impacted workers, at least in the short term, of discretionary spending, like going to restaurants. “If you’re taking something like a restaurant meal, you don’t make that back up,” he said.
Apart from IRS employees, VandenBerg also said there’s a notable presence of U.S. Forest Service employees at district and regional office in the Ogden area, several hundred, perhaps. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, is also impacted by the shutdown and agency workers are also subject to furlough.
Similarly, U.S. National Park Service employees are subject to furlough, reducing staffing levels at the five national parks in the state. But state officials announced that state funds will be tapped to augment staffing of visitor centers and maintain custodial services at Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks.
“Many travelers have planned their visit for months in advance and have traveled from all over the world to be here. We want them to return home with memories of magnificent vistas and welcoming people, not locked doors,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a press release.
The partial shutdown started Dec. 22 after congress and President Donald Trump couldn’t reach accord on a stopgap spending bill to continue funding about a quarter of federal government operations. The key sticking point is whether to include some $5 billion in the spending measure for the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, sought by Trump but decried by Democrats.
Weber County has the second-highest number of federal employees among Utah’s 29 counties, 5,310 as of 2017, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Davis County, home to Hill Air Force Base, had the most, 12,240, while Salt Lake County, with 4,738, sat in the third spot.