A Towson mom launched a GoFundMe campaign to keep her college basketball-playing son in school because she can’t pay tuition without a paycheck from her federal job.
Maryland farmers can’t access federal programs offering guaranteed loans and relief from tariffs.
Nobody answers the phone at federal taxpayer assistance centers around the state, even as tax filing season opens at the end of the month.
The partial government shutdown, in its 18th day Tuesday, affects one-quarter of the government and about 800,000 employees who are furloughed or working without pay. The longer it drags on, the greater the impact not only on federal workers, but on people relying on services they provide.
That includes farmers planning for the spring growing season who can’t tap into guaranteed low-interest loans. Some are waiting for checks from a tariff relief program for those hurt by trade retaliation by countries that typically buy U.S. corn, soybeans and other commodities.
The federal Farm Service Agency offices in Maryland that administer those programs are closed.
“I would normally have had my check by now,” said Eastern Shore farmer Jonathan Quinn. Quinn, who declined to say how much he receives from the program, grows corn, soybeans, wheat and barley in Cecil and Kent counties. He said the shutdown has also delayed release of domestic and world crop reports from the federal government that help farmers gauge what and how much to plant.
“It helps us direct our marketing for the upcoming year — where our prices are going to possibly go,” Quinn said.
The shutdown began Dec. 22 — a month before before tax filing season begins. A call to Baltimore’s taxpayer assistance center yields a message that the office “will resume normal operations as soon as possible.”
The Trump administration says tax returns will be processed beginning Jan. 28 and that refunds will be issued even if the shutdown continues. But taxpayers can’t get answers they might need to file.
“If you are under audit or have notices, you can’t call and speak to a representative,” said accountant Matthew Rothstein of the Baltimore firm RS&F. “If you have liens, you’re just not getting a response. If you have a balance due and you’re fighting it, that interest is going to accrue. There are definitely effects we are seeing.”
The shutdown is caused by a dispute between President Donald Trump and Congress over whether to fund a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
About 145,000 federal jobs are based in Maryland, and many more state residents work for the federal government.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has announced that the county would not disconnect residential water accounts during the shutdown.
“Our government took similar measures during the last extended government shutdown and I wanted to make sure we continue helping our residents in as many ways as possible,” he said.
The state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said Tuesday that it received 972 unemployment insurance benefit applications through Jan. 4 related to the shutdown. The applications have come from workers at all affected federal agencies, which include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State and Treasury.
Towson resident Lucy Ugochukwu, furloughed from her customer service job at the Treasury Department, launched a GoFundMe account to keep her son, David, enrolled at Penn State University’s Schuylkill campus, where he is on the basketball team.
“It’s horrible what is happening. I can’t even think straight,” the mom said. "This whole stupid tug of war, and we are caught in the middle.”
She said she owes about $5,600 for housing — a combination of an old balance and a new charge — and has an $899 tuition balance from the fall.
Her son, a 19-year-old sophomore, arrived at school for the new semester but was unable to enroll for classes or play in games with the team.
David, who graduated from Parkville High School, had originally launched his own GoFundMe page but took it down because it could have violated his playing status under collegiate rules. So his mom started a page on his behalf.
“I didn’t want it to get to this point at all,” said David Ugochukwu. “I just need to get my bill paid.”
He got some good news this week when the school said he qualified for a scholarship that will pay a chunk of what the family owes. “We are pleased that this modest award will help to keep David on track academically and allow him to remain a member of our campus community,” the school said in a statement.
The mother said the scholarship is worth a few thousand dollars, and is welcome. But she sure hopes the shutdown ends soon.
“The new bill for winter-spring hasn’t arrived,” she said.
Alison Prost, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland executive director, said she worries the funding lapse could cause the health of the estuary to suffer.
The Annapolis offices of the federal Chesapeake Bay Program are closed, which means its staff and data are unavailable to local governments that are in the midst of formulating plans to reduce the amount of pollution that flows into the bay. Those plans are especially important as record 2018 rainfall washed unusually large loads of nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and other pollutants into waterways.
The bay foundation on Monday announced the estuary earned a D+ grade on a biennial report card for 2018, down from a C- two years earlier. Environmentalists and regulators across the bay watershed are struggling to keep pace with goals aimed at restoring the Chesapeake’s health by 2025.
The shutdown also prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from conducting inspections and otherwise enforcing laws that protect ecosystems, Prost said.
“It slows down the work that has to happen every single day,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of leeway in bay cleanup for time off.”
Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the U.S. House majority leader, said his list of concerns include the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to keep up with ensuring the safety of food and medical products during the shutdown.
The agency said in a statement that it “will be continuing vital activities, to the extent permitted by the law, that are critical to ensuring public health and safety in the United States.”