On Her 4th Day in Office, Katie Hill Flies Home, Hosts a Town Hall

Updating constituents about the shutdown, the new House Rep in CA-25 moves quickly to connect and communicate.

While most freshman House members stayed in Washington, D.C. for additional orientation and education sessions last weekend, CA-25’s newly-inaugurated Rep. Katie Hill caught a red-eye flight back to her Southern California district to brief constituents on the status of the Trump shutdown, share information from local officials about the impacts it already is having on local communities and families, and hear from constituents about how they think the impasse should be resolved.

As Hill explained in a press release announcing the hastily scheduled event, “The Trump Administration’s shutdown is hurting families and small businesses in my district and it’s important to hear from the workers directly about its effect on their lives.”

A standing-room-only crowd greeted the new Representative with a standing ovation when Hill took the podium at Machinist’s Hall in Palmdale on Jan. 6. Joining her onstage were Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer; George McCubben, national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees, who drove from San Diego for the event; John Kostelnik, president of AFGE Local 3969; and Dennis Arguelles of the National Parks Conservation Association.

Maybe the crowd was excited just because a Congressional Town Hall was finally being held again in CA-25: after all, Hill’s predecessor, Republican two-termer Steve Knight, hadn’t held a public town hall in almost two years, after being caught inviting friendly “plants” in the audience to ask him what turned out to be softball questions.

Or, maybe it was just that many attendees were residents who’d voted for or volunteered for Hill.

In either event, the audience hung on her every word, and on the public officials who shared their own thoughts about the shutdown.

Long list of negative impacts

“When I was sworn in on Thursday,” Hill said, “we immediately voted on a bipartisan package that would provide critical funding for border security and would also reopen the government. As of Friday, the president showed that he is still unwilling to prioritize the hardworking people of this country.”

Among the many harmful impacts the Trump shutdown is having on communities across America, Hill reported:

  • 420,000 Federal government employees are out on furlough or being required to work without pay, which means they’re spending less in their local communities and unable to pay their mortgages and car loans.
  • 88 percent of Homeland Security employees are furloughed, with the rest working without pay – putting our nation’s security at risk due to Trump’s temper tantrum over a costly, medieval wall that won’t enhance our national security.
  • State and local law enforcement training funds have been frozen.
  • Payments to crime victims have stopped.
  • Funds for nutrition assistance to families in need have been cut by 40 percent, impacting 40 million Americans.
  • SNAP funding – for food stamps – will run out in February if the shutdown continues, leaving millions hungry and reducing grocers’ income.
  • Housing assistance reimbursements have stopped, which could put low-income Americans out on the street.
  • Funding for Department of Justice programs runs out on January 18, leaving the nation’s federal judiciary scrambling to keep the courts open and the wheels of justice turning. (Maybe that’s a good thing when you’re Donald Trump and his gang.)
  • Tax refunds were to be left unprocessed until the shutdown ended; on Jan. 7, Trump announced his administration was trying to get more IRS workers back on the job. But that still will leave taxpayers without access to assistance: if you have a question about your tax return, no one will be there to answer your call or email.
  • People trying to buy homes can’t get copies of needed tax forms, harming the housing market and the construction industry.
  • Federal home mortgage loan processing is delayed.
  • Small Business Administration loans aren’t being processed.

And that’s just a partial list.

Hurting communities, families

Palmdale Mayor Hofbauer reinforced Hill’s position when he declared, “The Congresswoman is right – we are fighting over things that most of the public doesn’t want us fighting over.”

In his “just the facts, ma’am” presentation, Hofbauer addressed the economic impact on his city – one of four major cities and dozens of small communities in CA-25’s far-flung territory, which encompasses Palmdale and part of Lancaster in the Antelope Valley; the city of Santa Clarita and neighboring communities in the Santa Clarita Valley; about half of the city of Simi Valley; and several communities in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley.

With every day the shutdown continues, Hofbauer said, “there’s a decline in local sales tax revenue. Business loan access is shut off, so people can’t open new businesses. Developers…it slows their financing. Home loans are slowed. The longer the shutdown, the greater the impact.”

In 2013, he shared, when the federal government shutdown lasted two weeks (the current shutdown is in its third week), Palmdale saw “a 10 to 20 percent cut in personal spending in households with a furloughed worker,” which produced a $24 billion cost to the city over two weeks.

The AFGE’s McCubben, a former Border Patrol agent who represents federal agency workers in California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii, was far less diplomatic. He declared the shutdown emblematic of “this president’s continued lack of respect for federal public sector employees,” and thanked Hill for hosting the forum. “This is why she was elected. We don’t want to send someone to D.C. to just occupy time.”

McCubben called on attendees to speak out. “This is not a partisan issue – we allwant border security.” But holding federal workers’ paychecks hostage is a bridge too far for him. “We need to get our people paid!”

Kostelak, who represents AFGE Local 3969’s 1,000 federal law enforcement officers who work at the Federal Correctional Complex in Victorville, painted a distressing picture of the impact the shutdown is having on his colleagues.

Since correctional facilities must be staffed, the Trump administration deemed their work essential. That means Kostelak and his colleagues are required to report to work whenever they’re told. “We can’t get authorized leave. If you miss work, you’re AWOL, and you get a phone message that threatens you with disciplinary action.”

His coworkers are taking second jobs to bring in some money, but have to decide: do they go to work at Victorville when ordered, and not get paid, or go to their second job and put food on the table? “And then,” he asked, “who watches the prisoners?”

And if they get sick, their problems multiply. Their health insurance premiums, Kostelak said, aren’t being paid. So they’ve got to beg doctors to care for them but delay their billing.

“President Trump doesn’t seem to care,” he declared. “He’s hurting law enforcement officers – the very people this president said he was for.”

And, Kostelak added, “If there’s anybody who knows a thing or two about walls, it’s us. Those walls are nothing without the staff. And right now that staff isn’t being paid. Pay us, President Trump. PAY us.”

As for the national parks, Arguelles called them “the face of the shutdown. A third of the parks are shut down but people still have access.” That means threats to both the parks’ natural wonders and to public safety – not to mention overflowing trashcans and unmaintained bathrooms.

The shutdown also is hurting the towns where national park visitors sleep, dine and shop. “Twenty million dollars is spent every day in gateway communities. But not during a shutdown.”

Arguelles closed by talking about the forest rangers whose homes were destroyed in Southern California’s Woolsey Fire in late 2018. “Those rangers lost their homes, and now they’re working but not being paid.”

Hill’s call to action

After explaining what she and her fellow Democrats in Congress are doing to try to force Trump’s hand, Hill reminded the audience that we’re in this together.

“There’s so much we agree on. We don’t want drug or sex trafficking coming across the border, right? We don’t want criminals and terrorists, right? We want to know who is coming in, and if they’re OK. And we want…compassion for people who are fleeing violence.”

“The 2006 Secure Fences program…$2.3 billion for fencing…saw limited success,” Hill shared. “Drugs come across in cars; if there’s a fence…migrants find other ways in. We need innovative technology and human resources.”

“I’m willing to fund caseworkers at the border [to process asylum requests] … and to deal with root problems in the countries they’re fleeing.” But not a wall.

Hill then urged her constituents to take action. “Public pressure is needed…like we exerted to stop repeal of the Affordable Care Act – that level of pressure.” She urged residents to tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and all GOP Senators up for reelection in 2020 to pass the bipartisan legislation they voted for in 2018, send it to the president, and override his veto if necessary.

The shutdown, she argued, “isn’t about keeping us safe. It’s about Donald Trump saving face…Trump and the right-wing media lied…about criminals…about the wall…he most certainly lied that he could make Mexico pay for it. That’s what he does.”

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