Donald Trump has reached a deal with Democrats to temporarily reopen the US government on day 35 of the record shutdown.
The situation had hit breaking point, after flights were grounded at major international airports on Friday, warnings over national safety were issued and 800,000 federal workers missed their second pay cheque of the year.
“We have reached a deal to end the government shutdown,” he told the nation from the White House Rose Garden just after 2pm local time (6am AEDT).
The President noted that he “had a very powerful alternative” but had chosen not to use it, after earlier reports he might declare a national emergency to get his border wall built.
The announcement came after US media reported that grounded planes at international hubs in New York and Philadelphia had brought more urgency to the impasse.
Mr Trump had maintained that he will not approve funding bills to reopen the government unless they include $US5.7 billion for his border wall. Democrats will not sign off on more than $US1.3 billion for border security, including fencing and surveillance, and negotiations have fallen apart.
On Thursday, two bills to reopen the government failed to pass the senate. One was a Trump-backed proposal that would have extended protections for 700,000 undocumented young immigrants in return for his wall funding. The other, backed by the Democrats, wanted to reopen the government without any border wall money as negotiations continued.
The shutdown has been terrible for Mr Trump’s popularity, with a Politico/Morning Consult poll this week showing 54 per cent of US voters blamed the President and Republicans, compared to 35 per cent blaming Democrats.
His overall approval rating sank to its lowest point in more than a year on Wednesday, with just 34 per cent of respondents saying they approved of the job he was doing as president in an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
For some Americans, the shutdown has literally become a matter of life or death.
Angela Dixon’s biggest fear is that her electricity will be turned off and her husband’s heart will fail. Willie, 58, has suffered numerous strokes and now has a mechanical pump implanted in his chest to keep him alive. He can no longer work, so the couple rely on Angela’s wage as a teacher in a federal prison to get by, and as a US government worker, that’s dried up.
Angela, 45, just missed her second pay cheque of the year and she has been forced to lean on friends for financial help.
“That was the biggest concern, him on LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device), we have to have electricity,” she told news.com.au. “We’re in Miami — rent is expensive. With him not having to work it’s been just me.
“He’s on 14 different medications. One of his medications increased this year, the price is about to go up, there are ambulance bills.
“The biggest story is him worried about everything going on — not eating, not sleeping. Things have slowed down now, he’s doing better … eating, sleeping a lot. I don’t know if something is wrong or he’s just catching up.”
Willie first went into hospital after he had a stroke almost two years ago. He spent four months in hospital and continued to suffer from seizures afterwards, returning to the ward every few weeks.
“We’ve been fortunate enough he hasn’t been back in since November 2018 but he’s still back and forth for weekly checking his numbers, seeing everything’s fine,” says Angela.
She has helped inmates gain high school certificates for almost 19 years, and has seen shutdowns before, but “never this long”, she says.
“I don’t think any of us expected it to go this long, this is the longest to date,” she says. “Gas is an issue for a lot of coworkers who live far away.
“Different churches and businesses in the community, they’re in the process of trying to get things organised.
“It’s shown a different side of some cities as a whole. It seemed for a while we were becoming cold-hearted as a nation but with this happening, you can see people trying to reach out and lend a hand. Really understanding, trying to ease everyone’s mind. We have to stick together and help each other out.”
But there are limits to what local organisations can achieve with federal funding on hold and cashflow drying up — and the protracted delay is expected to have long-term effects on struggling families and taxpayers, as support systems crumble.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has $US2 billion to distribute to Americans in need of assistance with accommodation, but the money has not been announced — leaving families with nowhere to go.
“There’s a great need to increase capacity,” Steve Berg, from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, told news.com.au. “If HUD hasn’t announced funding, it’s hard to get the community to contribute.”
State and local government and non-profit organisations are stuck in limbo, unable to promise help to the homeless. “They’re very concerned because their funding’s starting to run out,” he said. “We’ve started to hear from a few that have run out of money.”
The larger housing choice voucher program pays rent for about two million households, and only has enough for February. “If it drags on to March 1, there isn’t going to be any money,” says Steve. “That’s a much bigger disaster.
“More people will become homeless and the system will be overwhelmed.”
The enormity of these families situations was thrown into stark relief after tone-deaf comments from Donald Trump and his wealthy circle this week.
CNN contributor Ana lashed out at the administration, telling them to “shut the hell up” if they couldn’t empathise with the problems suffered by low-paid workers living pay cheque to pay cheque.
The President’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump remarked that “a little bit of pain” for the 800,000 government workers working without pay or on leave without pay was justified by the need for border security.
Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross said he “didn’t quite understand” why families didn’t take out bank loans rather than going to food banks. Difficulties paying back interest did not seem to have occurred to him.
Marilyn Chin, a 62-year-old Department of Justice employee, is one of those federal employees and said it was “very upsetting” visiting food banks for plantain, oatmeal, bread and carrots while still going to work each day.
“They’re there to help but at same time, I just feel to me it’s just degrading,” she told news.com.au. “I never knew the pantry existed in my neighbourhood.
“It really hit me last Friday, I went to supermarket — I’ve never been in any unemployment line or food bank — it hit me I have to look what to buy, can I afford this, can I afford that? I’m an essential worker, I can’t apply for food stamps, unemployment or nothing.”
Her 67-year-old husband just retired, but his pension will take three to four months to come through. The couple’s bills are due at end of month and Marilyn is worried missing her rent could affect her credit rating.
She contacted her landlord and was told that if she receives an eviction notice, she should bring it in. “I said, I want better than that, so she put it on my file.
“I don’t even want to think about it, I really don’t.”
Marilyn, an immigrant from Guyana, says she blames Mr Trump, asking why he didn’t address his border security concerns when Republicans had control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“If he wanted his wall, he could have got his wall then. Now the House is controlled by Democrats.
“I’m an immigrant. He shouldn’t discriminate against immigrants, they come here for a better life.”
The shutdown effects are becoming ever more frightening. Food banks have increased their opening hours but some told news.com.au they feared being swamped.
Planes were grounded at international airports in New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia on Friday because of a shortage of air-traffic controllers. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote to Mr Trump on Friday demanding he reopen the government immediately because it was putting travellers at risk.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Mr Trump on Twitter to “stop endangering the safety, security and wellbeing of our nation. Re-open government now!”
Major airlines warned the situation was at a “tipping point.”
Larry Hirsch, from the New York branch of the HUD, told news.com.au vouchers needed to be reviewed and constantly renewed — but furloughed staff (on leave without pay) cannot access email and voicemail to find out who is in trouble.
He said the team was trying to get gift cards to people who were “having to choose between rent and food” and urged Mr Trump to sign a bill reopening vital departments.
“It’s a very simple solution,” he said. “My job and the job of thousands of others have nothing to do with border security or the wall.
“It’s frustrating it’s got to this point.
“We are the true victims of this shutdown, being held hostage to negotiations on the wall.”