WASHINGTON — Three days, maybe four. That’s how long Ethan James, 21, says he can realistically miss work before he’s struggling.
So as the partial government shutdown stretched into its sixth day with no end in sight, James, a minimum-wage contractor sidelined from his job as an office worker at the Interior Department, was worried. “I live check to check right now,” he said, and risks missing his rent or phone payment. Contractors, unlike most federal employees, may never get back pay for being idled. “I’m getting nervous,” he said.
Federal workers and contractors forced to stay home or work without pay are experiencing mounting stress from the impasse affecting hundreds of thousands of them. For those without a financial cushion, even a few days of lost wages during the shutdown over President Donald Trump’s border wall could have dire consequences.
As well, the disruption is starting to pinch citizens who count on a variety of public services, beyond those who’ve been finding gates closed at national parks. For example, the government won’t issue new federal flood insurance policies or renew expiring ones.
Trump and congressional leaders appear no closer to a resolution over his demand for $5 billion for the border wall that could now push the shutdown into the new year. The House and Senate gaveled in for a perfunctory session Thursday, but quickly adjourned without action. No votes are expected until next week, and even that’s not guaranteed. Lawmakers are mostly away for the holidays and will be given 24-hour notice to return, with Republican senators saying they won’t vote until all parties, including Trump, agree to a deal.
The president spent part of the day tweeting about the shutdown, insisting “this isn’t about the Wall,” but about Democrats denying him “a win.”
“Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?” he asked in one tweet, citing no evidence for that claim. That earned him a reprimand from Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who tweeted: “Federal employees don’t go to work wearing red or blue jerseys. They’re public servants.”
Roughly federal 420,000 workers were deemed essential and are working unpaid, unable to take any sick days or vacation. An additional 380,000 are staying home without pay. While furloughed federal workers have been given back pay in previous shutdowns, it’s not guaranteed. The Senate passed a bill last week to make sure workers will be paid. The House will probably follow suit.
The longer the shutdown lasts, the more government activities will grind to a halt. It’s already caused a lapse in money for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice.
Many national parks have closed while some have limited facilities. The National Flood Insurance Program announced it will no longer renew or issue policies during the shutdown.
The chief judge of Manhattan federal courts suspended work on civil cases involving U.S. government lawyers as a result of the shutdown. The order suspends action in several civil lawsuits in which Trump is a defendant.
Judge Colleen McMahon said in a written order that the suspension will remain in effect until the business day after the president signs a budget appropriation law restoring Justice Department funding.
A similar order to McMahon’s has been issued in the Northern District of Ohio.
“I think it’s obvious that until the president decides he can sign something — or something is presented to him — that we are where we are,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
House Democrats tried Thursday to offer a measure to re-open government, but they were blocked from action by Republicans, who still have majority control of the chamber until Democrats take over Jan. 3.
“Unfortunately, 800,000 federal workers are in a panic because they don’t know whether they’ll get paid,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., who tried to offer the bill. “That may make the president feel good but the rest of us should be terribly bothered by that, and should work on overtime to end the shutdown now.”
Government contractors like James, placed on unpaid leave, don’t get compensated for lost hours.
James said the contracting company he works for gave its employees a choice: take unpaid leave or dip into paid time-off entitlements. But James doesn’t have any paid time off because he started the job just four months ago. His only option is forgoing a paycheck.
“This is my full-time job, this is what I was putting my time into until I can save up to take a few classes,” said James, who plans to study education and become a teacher. “I’m going to have to look for something else to sustain me.”
As federal employees tell their stories on Twitter under the hashtag #Shutdownstories, Trump has claimed that federal workers are behind him, saying many have told him “stay out until you get the funding for the wall.’” He didn’t say whom he had heard from, and he did not explain the incongruity of also believing that most are Democrats.
Steve Reaves, president of Federal Emergency Management Agency union, said he hasn’t heard from any employees who say they support the shutdown.
TWIN FALLS — As Amy Sadler filled out a worksheet about a story called “The Perfect Gift,” Oregon Trail Elementary School special education teacher Jenni Holcomb knelt down next to her desk.
“So, can you read this part for me?” Holcomb asked Amy during class on Dec. 20. After Amy finished reading, a fellow fourth-grader Daemon Jones told Holcomb he finished an assignment.
“Maybe this is something you can help Amy with,” Holcomb told him.
The Twin Falls School District special education officials want children who have special needs to have as much interaction with their peers in general education classrooms as possible, while still receiving the interventions they need. Educators say it helps boost students’ confidence and academic performance and provides social benefits.
Instead of pulling students out of class frequently to receive special education services, the school district keeps students — including Amy — in their general education classroom by “pushing in” special education teachers and paraeducators to help them.
“We just try to integrate kids into general education classrooms as much as possible,” said Mike Gemar, support services director for the school district.
The special education “push-in” model is a big change for Twin Falls’ elementary schools, but that kind of integration was already happening in middle and high schools. The new emphasis at elementary schools started last school year, but a couple of schools are just now transitioning. It’s a model some other south-central Idaho school districts are already using.
The model opens up opportunities for children in the “least restrictive environment,” Holcomb said. “It’s a lot about them as a human being. We just see a whole different student.”
The school district hopes the method will improve test scores.
Special education teachers help if modifications need to be made, such as with classwork or tests. If a fifth-grader is reading at a second-grade level, for instance, a special education teacher may adapt the materials to their level, but the student is still listening to grade-level content.
“We are all about exposure,” Holcomb said.
The push-in model isn’t used with students who have severe needs and spend their entire day in an extended resource classroom. But some go to elective classes.
“If they can be included in another classroom, we do that,” Gemar said.
The Twin Falls School District typically scores at or slightly above state average among subgroups of students on standardized tests, school district spokeswoman Eva Craner said. But scores tend to be below state average among special education students, she said, adding the school district wants to bring up that achievement level.
Gemar said he’s anxiously awaiting test results to see how the initiative is working. He hopes to see a steady increase but doesn’t expect a drastic jump right away.
“We know it won’t happen just like that,” he said.
Gemar said he loves the push-in model. The biggest challenge, though, is scheduling. Plus, there’s a shortage of special education teachers and paraprofessionals. It’s one of the toughest school jobs to fill — particularly in the midst of a statewide teacher shortage.
“Honestly, we could use a lot more staff,” Gemar said. And some Twin Falls elementary schools have only one special education teacher.
Another challenge is communication, including figuring out which teacher is responsible for grading a student’s assignments and ensuring a set schedule in general education classrooms each day so special education employees know when to come in.
At Oregon Trail Elementary, there are two special education teachers — Kristen Russell for kindergarten through second grades and Holcomb for third through fifth grades — due to a large number of students who qualify for services.
It’s the second year Oregon Trail has used the push-in format and it’s the unofficial model school for the initiative in the Twin Falls School District.
Before, “we literally had kids here all day long,” Russell said after school Dec. 19 in her special education classroom. She has 25 students on her caseload. “It was super chaotic and we didn’t really see a lot of growth, per se.”
Students were missing out on grade-level instruction in subjects like English and math. And they were missing out on learning skills like making class presentations and reading out loud in front of their peers.
And if a child ended up no longer qualifying for special education services, they were sent to a general education classroom — an environment they’d never been exposed to, Russell said. “It was a huge shock to them.”
That prompted educators at Oregon Trail to sit down and make a change, she said.
“Special education is a support, not a place,” Russell said.
Holcomb has 29 students on her caseload and all of them participate in the push-in model.
It’s more of a team approach to educating students, Gemar said. For general education teachers, “they’re enjoying the interaction with our kids in their classes.”
Gemar said the initiative is also helping general education teachers learn how to better work with students who have special needs. Those strategies, he said, can be adapted to help other students who are struggling, but aren’t on an Individualized Education Program or 504 Plan.
Based on teacher feedback, “the biggest plus they’re seeing is the confidence level of the SPED kids is coming up,” Gemar said. And, “their peers in the classroom are really wanting to help.”
The families of three Mountain Home airmen who died in a fiery crash on Interstate 84 in June have filed tort claims against the Idaho Transportation Department, alleging that inadequate signage and warnings ahead of a construction zone contributed to a collision that killed four people. The three claims allege more than $12 million in damages.
The tort claims put the state on notice that they intend to file lawsuits. The state has 90 days to respond to the claims. If the state denies or does not respond to the claims, the families may file lawsuits.
Though damages sought are in the millions, there’s a cap for monetary judgments against state agencies: $500,000, regardless of the number of claimants, according to Diane Blume with the Idaho Department of Administration’s risk management program.
Killed in the June 16 crash were Senior Airman Carlos “C.J.” Johnson, 23, of Key West, Fla.; Senior Airman Lawrence “Pit” Manlapit III, 26, of Bridgeport, Conn.; Senior Airman Karlie A. Westall, 21, of Sioux Falls, S.D.; and tractor-trailer driver Illya D. Tsar, 42, of Rochester, N.Y.
Johnson’s Jeep was stopped in a line of traffic on the interstate near the Cloverdale Road overpass when it was struck from behind by Tsar’s 2019 Volvo, according to investigations by Idaho State Police and the National Transportation Safety Board. He was traveling an estimated 62 mph. Tsar had a large number of traffic violations prior to the crash, the Statesman reported following an investigation into his driving history.
In early December, Boise-based attorneys for Krujex Freight Transport Corp., the Oregon trucking company that Tsar worked for, sent a letter to 16 potential claimants in the crash, including the families of the airmen, those involved in secondary collisions and the Idaho Transportation Department. The letter, provided to the Statesman by one of the families, says that Krujex’s total insurance coverage amounts to $3 million; it offers the $3 million as a “global settlement” for all claims against Krujex.
Boise attorney Dan Jenkins of Craig Swapp & Associates, who is representing the Johnsons, said he has requested mediation. The non-economic damages cap per claimant for 2018 is $357,210.62, Blume said. But Jenkins said he’ll argue that Tsar was so reckless that the cap should not apply.
In addition to fatalities, the crash caused a fire that damaged the Cloverdale Road overpass. ITD estimated that it would cost $1.5 million to repair the overpass, but opted instead to replace the two-lane bridge with a four-lane bridge. The agency approved spending up to $8 million to do that.
The claim filed against ITD by Keith and Daisy Johnson says the construction zone near where the collision occurred was “negligently designed and/or engineered” because it provided “inadequate, improper or insufficient signage and notice to drivers.”
“Furthermore, ITD and the Idaho State Police were both made aware/notified of the dangerous conditions at or near the construction zone according to multiple reports/sources, and they failed to take action to protect, warn or notify drivers of the dangerous traffic conditions and/or construction zone,” states the claim received by the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office on Nov. 19.
Johnson’s parents are seeking damages that they estimate will exceed $5 million.
The claim filed by the parents of Westall contains that same language. They are seeking damages they expect to exceed $5 million on behalf of their daughter’s estate.
Manlapit’s father filed a claim on behalf of his son’s estate seeking $2 million. The cause of the damages listed is “traffic obstructed by construction project without appropriate warnings, highway markings, control or management.”
Two others filed a claim against ITD in connection with the crash: Toina Jorgensen, 35, and Erika Medina, 25, both Nampa women, were involved in one of the chain-reaction collisions that occurred after Tsar’s tractor-trailer slammed into the back of Johnson’s Jeep. The women are each seeking damages not to exceed $35,000.
On the night of June 16, four lanes on I-84 were reduced to one for a pavement sealing project near the Cloverdale Road overpass. The crash occurred at about 11:30 p.m. as Tsar was headed east on I-84. Five other vehicles were struck after the initial collision.
The Jeep, while still being pushed by the Volvo, struck the back of a 2003 Volvo semitrailer driven by Roman Zhuk, 35, of Vancouver, Wash. Zhuk’s truck sideswiped a 2006 Ford Fusion driven by Jorgensen. She and Medina were treated at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.
Jorgensen’s Ford rear-ended a 2014 Ford F-150 pickup driven by Gerald S. Shumway, 69, of Boise, and sideswiped a 2015 Ford Escape driven by Fernando D. Nitu, 33, of Nampa. Debris from Tsar’s truck struck a 2010 Ford Focus driven by Rachel Colburn, 19, of Boise.
Tsar’s truck burst into flames after the crash.
The night before the crash, a Boise woman called 911 to report that the construction zone was dangerous — and she wasn’t the only motorist who expressed concern, according to a June article by Statesman reporter John Sowell.
“We’re on the interstate, and they’ve got this stupid blockade going, and they’ve got people flying down on the left-hand lane that’s closed,” Jenni Berringer told an Ada County dispatcher, Sowell reported. “This is an accident waiting to happen. We’ve almost gotten hit three times.”
Officials with ITD said its contractor, The Penhall Co., of Anaheim, Calif., followed a 54-page safety plan in setting up the construction zone.
If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.