After two weeks of shutdown, Donald Trump’s America is in pieces, with essential services still shut, government workers struggling to make rent, transportation safety compromised and the economy under strain.
As the new Congress convened, 800,000 federal employees were on leave without pay or working without pay after a quarter of government agencies closed down.
Many low-paid government workers fretting over how to feed their families were furious to learn Vice President Mike Pence and hundreds of senior Trump aides are set to receive pay rises of more than $10,000.
That’s because a freeze on their wages is set to end after the government failed to pass bills to fund several agencies on December 21 because of border wall disagreements.
As the President threatened to keep the government shut “for months or even years”, experts predicted far worse to come, including potentially devastating effects on health, scientific research and food supplies.
Julie Burr, 49, said she went into “panic mode” after she was placed on unpaid leave from her job as a Transport Department administrative assistant, telling news.com.au she was “seriously considering” selling off her possessions.
“I didn’t want to but I would do it if I couldn’t pay my rent and light bill,” said the single mother from Kansas City, Missouri. “My 14-year old son asks a lot of questions. He knows this is difficult and stressful.”
Ms Burr took on extra shifts in her part-time Christmas job at bookstore Barnes and Noble but has had to ask for a rent extension and started a GoFundMe page to help her through a challenging festive season.
“It is helping tremendously,” she said. “If I didn’t have that, I would be in jeopardy of losing my home. My concern is that this goes on and on with no end in sight.”
The House of Representatives overnight passed two stopgap measures aimed at reopening the government without providing funding for Mr Trump’s planned wall on the US-Mexico border.
But these measures from the newly Democrat-controlled House are unlikely to pass the Senate, and even if they did, the President says he will not sign a bill that does not include $US5 billion ($A7 billion) for the border wall.
Democrats remain unwilling to provide more than $US1.3 billion ($A1.8 billion) for border security, including a fence rather than a wall.
Ahead of continuing talks on Friday, Mr Trump sent a letter to both parties. “Walls work,” he wrote. “That’s why rich, powerful, and successful people build them around their homes. All Americans deserve the same protection.”
The new Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was equally firm. “How many more times can we say no? Nothing for the wall,” she told NBC’s Today on Thursday.
Meanwhile, he continued to fight back against talk of impeachment, saying he had had “too much success”.
Mr Trump insists the wall will solve immigration problems, but the backlog of cases is only growing during the shutdown. With courts closed and 300 immigration judges furloughed (on leave without pay), many cases will be “reset for a later date” after the shutdown ends, according to the Justice Department.
Ms Burr said Mr Trump “should give up on the wall” and start listening to ordinary citizens. “I think he needs to lead in the compromise and reopen the government,” she said. “I would ask him to sit down with members of Congress and talk this out in a mature manner. I would ask him to listen to people and realise how this is having a detrimental effect on people of the US.”
Susan, an employee at an agency focused on international development, told news.com.au she was using savings to pay rent and was able to apply for unemployment benefit this week. “I’m concerned that we won’t get retroactive pay, so I’m not spending money for anything but essentials,” said the government worker, who is in her 60s and based in Washington, DC.
She said that if workers at other agencies “walked off the job in solidarity” the impasse could be broken. “Short of that, who knows when we might go back to work, so I’m applying to other jobs,” she added.
The impact extends well beyond the livelihoods of government workers and their families to affect almost every aspect of life in America.
At least 70 national parks are closed and those that remain open using state funds are contending with huge piles of rubbish and overflowing toilets because of a lack of staff.
Joshua Tree National Park closed on Wednesday citing health concerns around toilet facilities while Yosemite National Park announced there would be limited access “due to continuing issues with human waste and resource damage.”
President of the Air Line Pilots Association Joe DePete warned “the safety, security and the efficiency of our national airspace is being impacted.”
In a letter to the President, the pilot from Washington, DC said there were “gaps that immediately emerge” with the partial closure of the Departments of Transport and Homeland Security.
He said there were now not enough safety inspectors to ensure air traffic control was performing at its peak and reduced oversight of airline and aircraft manufacturing. “These safety and oversight inspections will potentially allow for the introduction of safety issues that put passengers and airline crews at risk,” he said, adding that the shutdown was also “a significant stumbling block” in the Federal Aviation Administration’s efforts to guard against dangerous drones.
With no sign of an end to their woes, many Americans were bracing for greater pain. A non-profit advocacy organisation warned a supplemental nutrition program for mothers and newborns could be threatened, while scientists are concerned about delays or disruption to research projects.
Some Republicans have suggested resurrecting a Democrat idea to link wall funding and protection for young immigrants, or “Dreamers”, previously covered by the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program. The President this week rejected the idea.
It is finances that are of the greatest concern, however, with the shutdown set to cost US taxpayers billions in lost productivity and trickle-down economic effects such as lost tourist dollars.
The US is entering tax filing season, and insiders are forecasting a meltdown as the backlog grows, with the Treasury Department still operating with a skeleton staff.
An IRS employee who is returning to work without pay on Monday told news.com.au: “We were concerned before being furloughed, now the concern is even greater. We have a Tax Reform, new simplified tax form and schedules, etc and not a lot of information about them.
“Training has been somewhat limited due to limits on budget even before the furlough. I’m not exactly sure what to expect when we go back on Monday.
“I’m divorced. I depend on my income to pay for basic necessities. I’m one of the lucky ones that don’t have a mortgage or car payment but I still need to eat, pay for gas to go to work, pay for meds, utilities … The uncertainty creates a lot of stress, both emotional and financial.”
Mr Trump has made the economy his key selling point, and is relying on its strength to carry him to 2020 re-election victory. Now, that looks increasingly in doubt, although the President is likely to blame the Democrats for any decline since they have taken control of the House.
“My greatest fear is a crash in the economy,” said Ms Burr. “I watch the stock market each day.
“The President is saying the economy is strong but I am not sure about it.”