By MADELINE HUGHES
The record-breaking partial federal government shutdown is in its fifth week. Across the country, 800,000 federal employees are on furlough, not getting paid and not working. Here in Shelburne, the ripple effects of the shutdown are evident.
Craig Stevens, owner of Wild Hart Distillers, is facing his own issues because of the government shutdown. Three of his new labels for liquors are stuck at the Alcohol and Tax and Trade Bureau for review, which is impacting sales of the three new products.
“While it isn’t the same as not having a paycheck, it is definitely reducing our ability to generate revenue during winter, which is a slower time for our retail sales than summer,” Stevens said.
Stevens submitted three labels for two new liquors – a peach cordial and an aged gin – and labels for 50 ml bottles, or “nips,” to be approved in December just after the shutdown began. Distillers have to submit labels to the bureau for approval.
It was the last step in the series to get the products to market, which is coming as Stevens tries to expand his business into another state.
Two other government shutdowns have occurred since Stevens opened Wild Hart in 2016. One was three days over a weekend last January, and the other was less than a day last February. Neither affected Steven’s business because they were so short.
When asked if he could have planned ahead knowing the shutdown was coming, his answer was “no.”
“We reached a record (for the shutdown), we could have never thought it would go on this long,” Stevens said. “We sent the formula in November, we received the O.K., then we created the labels, and submitted them.
“We wouldn’t have thought at the time that this would happen,” Stevens added. “New products are important because they don’t just increase your revenue because you are selling a new product. They get people here exposing them to the product again. For a small business every penny counts.”
Across U.S. Route 7, Shelburne Vineyard is facing similar issues with labels. Two labels for wines are likely to get caught up in the backlog, said vineyard owner Ken Albert.
“If (a label) is submitted, it goes into limbo until the shutdown ends,” Albert said, “and who knows what kind of backlog there will be when the government returns. Whenever there is uncertainty in business, that’s bad.”
Shelburne Farms is also facing disruption from the shutdown.
“The shutdown is affecting some of our educational programs, including our educational partnership with the National Park Service and our USDA Farm to School programs,” said Holly Brough, the farm’s director of communications.
Federal employees and programs face uncertainty
Furloughed federal workers across the country will miss their second paycheck since the shutdown began Friday if government operations do not resume after press time Wednesday, including the 686 federal workers in Vermont. An additional 1,500 Vermonters work for agencies that don’t have federal money appropriated to pay for them, according to the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office.
Food banks across the country and in Vermont have been reaching out to federal employees who may be facing cash flow problems.
“We want people to know that we’re here to help,” said Kelly Saunders, Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf development director. “Thousands of working families and individuals in our area live paycheck-to-paycheck, and one emergency –like missing wages – can put them at risk of experiencing food insecurity and hunger. Our doors are open for anyone who is worried that they can’t afford to feed themselves or their families.”
Banks are also working to provide federal employees on furlough or working without pay to obtain low-interest loans and bill payment schedules. The VSECU credit union, which anyone living or working in Vermont is eligible to join, is providing $3,000 low-interest loans to federal employees living without a paycheck. That’s an increase from the $1,500 loans the credit union offered in December. Members of the credit union will also be eligible for the Skip-A-Payment program fee waiver.
“As the federal shutdown continues, the financial pinch it originally caused is becoming more like a financial vice grip,” said Valerie Beaudin, head of consumer and residential lending. “VSECU will continue to look for opportunities to ease people’s financial stress, and will work with everyone impacted to help give some relief.”
On Jan. 22, Gov. Phil Scott directed the Vermont Department of Labor to provide federal workers in Vermont who are deemed “essential” and “excepted” to work without pay the same Unemployment Insurance benefits as other furloughed employees.
As for federal assistance programs, the state is continuing to fund them through February.
“We heard this week in committee that many of the programs funded by the federal government that go through the Vermont Department of Children and Families should be OK until the end of February and then things could get scary,” said Rep. Jessica Brumstead, D-Shelburne, who serves on the House Committee on Human Services.
“Vermont’s Department for Children and Families will be issuing most February 3SquaresVT (or SNAP) benefits early, on Jan. 20. These benefits will be for the entire month of February, so it is important that participants budget accordingly,” Brumstead added.
Local business owners are also offering deals to federal employees, many of which can be found on social media. Yoga Roots posted to its Facebook page Friday that is offering month-long passes to federal employees at its two locations in Shelburne and Williston. Sugarbush Resort and Mad River Glen are offering free skiing and snowboarding deals to federal employees as well.
The government was still shut down as of press time. The U.S. House of Representatives voted on a series of funding bills to reopen the government on Jan. 3. The Senate is scheduled to vote on different funding bills today to reopen the government.
VtDigger contributed to the reporting.