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U.S. affected in ways unseen

Missed food inspections, failed websites, and a lot more

Published: Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 5:48 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Oct. 18, 2013 5:49 p.m. CST

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CHICAGO (AP) – Our food was a little less safe, our workplaces a little more dangerous. The risk of getting sick was a bit higher, our kids’ homework tougher to complete.

The federal government shutdown may have seemed like a frustrating squabble in far-off Washington, but it crept into our lives in small, subtle ways – from missed vegetable inspections to inaccessible federal websites.

The “feds” always are there in the background, setting the standards by which we live, providing funds to research cures for our kids’ illnesses, watching over our food supply and work environment.

So how did the shutdown alter our daily routines? Here’s a look at a day in the life of the 2013 government shutdown.

Waking up

That sausage patty on your breakfast plate was safe as ever because meat inspectors – like FBI agents – are considered “essential” and remained at work. But federal workers who inspect just about everything else on your plate – from fresh berries to scrambled eggs – were furloughed.

The Food and Drug Administration, which in fiscal year 2012 conducted more than 21,000 inspections or contracted state agencies to conduct them, put off scores of other inspections at processing plants, dairies and other large food facilities. In all, 976 of the FDA’s 1,602 inspectors were sent home.

About 200 planned inspections a week were put off, in addition to more than 8,700 inspections the federal government contracts state officials to perform, according to FDA spokesman Steven Immergut. That included unexpected inspections that keep food processors on their toes.

Office hours

At a warehouse, factory or other worksite, a young minority exposed to racial slurs by his boss had one fewer place to turn for help. Federal officials who oversee compliance with discrimination laws and labor practices weren’t working, except in emergencies.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was not issuing right-to-sue letters, so people could not take discrimination cases into federal court, said Peter Siegelman, an expert in workplace discrimination at the University of Connecticut’s law school.

Workplaces weren’t inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. One result? Employees could operate dangerous equipment even if not trained or old enough to do so.

“The afternoon before the shutdown we got a complaint of a restaurant where a ... 14-year-old was operating a vertical dough mixer,” said James Yochim, assistant director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s wage and hour division office in Springfield, Ill. “We [were] not able to get out there and conduct an investigation.”

Night, night

After hours is when the shutdown arrived at many people’s homes.

Monique Howard’s 5-year-old son, Carter, has the most trouble with his asthma at night, when his breathing is labored. Her family dreams of a cure, the kind doctors are hunting through federally funded research grants at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

During the shutdown, the doctors had to stop submitting grant applications to study childhood asthma and other diseases and disorders. Hospital officials said the shutdown could have delayed funding for nearly half a year.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
 

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