The Breakdown

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Shutdown fallout: Southern Californians face backlogs, extra costs

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After Congress reaches a deal ending a 16-day federal shutdown and avoiding a financial default, those affected by the long impasse here in Southern California are starting to look around and survey the damage.

Two federal employees told KPCC that when their furloughed colleagues return, they’ll face a backlog of cases and delayed projects that will likely cost the federal government extra money.

Social Security Administration attorney, Elisa Wayne started the shutdown on furlough, but was called back in to work after missing eight days. Wayne works in the SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review in downtown Los Angeles, where people who’ve been denied disability benefits go to appeal the decisions in hearings before judges.

The Social Security Administration kept the hearings going and the judges working, but for the first eight days, there were no attorneys like Wayne to help process the decisions. Wayne said the situation was frustrating and chose a medical analogy to explain.

“You can’t have the surgeons without the anesthesiologists,” Wayne said. “I think they just realized ‘you’re holding hearings, but why?'  If you’re not having attorneys there to write the cases, then it’s just a joke.”

Wayne added that even before the federal shutdown, her case load was heavy. The slow appeal process for disability claims has created a case backlog that was highlighted last year in a congressional report.

“Congress is always on our back about getting the backlog down,” said Wayne. “So the eight days (off)  exponentially just made the backlog worse. “

The shutdown also placed about 3,000 aviation professionals of the Federal Aviation Administration on furlough nationally.  That includes 500 employees in Southern California.

Sam Samad, local President of the union that represents many FAA employees says the furloughs placed many projects on hold, including upgrades to air traffic control towers and runway safety improvements.

"There's always costs associated with shutting down and restarting a project," said Samad, especially in construction projects that involve outside contractors. 

Samad  says the shutdown has also interrupted developmental training for air traffic controllers.  That means the agency has lost some ground on replacing the twenty percent of the controller workforce that is eligible for retirement. 

"If the process of training and replacement is interrupted, down the line it will have an impact on our overall national airspace system," Samad said.

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