As the partial federal government shutdown turns 2 weeks old, locals say there has been little effect on Rock County and the surrounding area—but they warn more problems could arise if Congress and President Donald Trump don’t come to an agreement by the end of January.
Federal programs began shutting down at midnight Dec. 21 after Congress failed to pass funding for a host of departments and agencies, including the Internal Service Revenue, parts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and national parks and museums. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare; the U.S. Postal Service; and the military remain operational.
The shutdown came after Trump demanded funding to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is expected to continue indefinitely as Trump and the GOP remain at odds with Democrats who just took majority control of the House of Representatives.
Jim Bartlett, franchise owner at Liberty Tax Service in Janesville, said the IRS is operating with the “absolute minimum requirements,” and people likely won’t be able to contact IRS representatives while the closure persists. He said the IRS does not usually begin processing tax returns until the third week in January, leaving a little time before the shutdown begins affecting that process.
But if the shutdown lingers, “people will notice” if the IRS remains mostly closed through the end of the month, Bartlett said.
Dennis James, chapter coordinator for Rock County’s Ice Age Trail Alliance group, said volunteers are barred from maintaining and working on the scenic national trail during the shutdown. Volunteers are insured through the mostly shuttered U.S. National Park Service, and any claims would not be processed until funding is restored.
The trail is still open to the public, however, and James said the group isn’t prohibited from holding regular meetings. He said January is typically a slow month for trail maintenance, such as clearing fallen trees, mowing and eliminating invasive plants along the trail.
James said the group’s Candlelight Hike at the Storrs Lake Wildlife Area later this month is still scheduled but will be hosted by the Friends of Rock County Parks instead of the alliance.
Local farmers might also feel the effects of the shutdown after the Farm Service Agency, an arm of the Department of Agriculture, closed Dec. 28. The agency is responsible for various insurance programs, regulation and federal payments to farmers, including administering $4.7 billion in aid following the retaliatory tariffs China imposed on American crops.
Doug Rebout, president of the Wisconsin Corn Growers association and a Rock County resident, said the agency is a “busy office” but that it’s a slow time of year for farmers and the agency. Most local farmers already received payments from the agency for tariff aid and are largely unaffected right now, he said.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said the shutdown has “little to no effect” on county programs in the short-term. But most people interviewed expressed concerns about a prolonged shutdown, saying negative effects could build over time.