Local Viewpoints
11:59 am
Tue October 15, 2013

Heinrich: New Mexicans Want Government To Function Again

Credit Senator Martin Heinrich (D) New Mexico

  Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) delivered a speech on the Senate floor to underline the devastating impacts of the government shutdown on New Mexico's economy and middle-class families. 

Below are Senator Heinrich's remarks as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, in the midst of the current crises there have been some who have questioned the relevance of the federal government to our overall economy.  Some have even called the current shutdown a "slimdown."

But in my home state of New Mexico there is no question that this government shutdown has been irresponsible, reckless and devastating to our economy.

New Mexico serves the nation in many ways, through our national labs, our military bases, with federal lands and monuments that host Americans from every corner of our nation.

As a result, federal dollars in 2010 were nearly 36 percent of our state's gross domestic product.

This figure includes Veterans benefits, Social Security and student financial aid.

Federal dollars go toward grants to help fund state and local health care, transportation, education, and housing programs.

Many here in this chamber who have served as city councilors, mayors, legislators or governors realize the role that federal pass through dollars play in keeping our states and municipalities solvent.

In New Mexico federal contracts are also critical for our small business community. Defense purchases account for almost two-thirds of total procurement spending.

We are home to nearly 27,000 federal workers.  Workers who want to go back to work.  Workers who just want to do their jobs.

Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory employ an additional 18,000 New Mexicans as contractors.

And the U.S. Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, employs 1,000 more.

So it's an understatement to say that shutting down the federal government strikes at the heart of my state's economy.

Between sequestration furloughs, the shutdown, and the current impasse over averting a catastrophic default on the nation's debt, hard-working, middle-class families across New Mexico are saddled with uncertainty and hardship.

These manufactured crises have very real consequences.

Since the shutdown began, I've heard time and again from constituents who are paying the price for this reckless debacle.

They say they feel like collateral damage in the ongoing ideological battles in Washington, DC.

Hard working civil servants dedicated to their jobs and their country have been sent home without pay, while many others have to work through the shutdown without a paycheck.

I heard from Rio Rancho resident Chad Didier who served in the Marine Corps and is now an air traffic controller in Albuquerque. During the shutdown, he's been reporting to work everyday to help keep our airspace safe, but he doesn't know when he'll start receiving a paycheck again.

This comes on the heels of forgoing pay earlier this year due to sequestration.

As the father of four young children and the sole breadwinner in his family, he's worried about making rent next month and making his car payments on time. 

He's frustrated because he's doing everything that he's supposed to do to take care of his family and serve his country, but he feels that his government has failed him.

Last week, because of the shutdown, the National Nuclear Security Administration ordered that Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories to be ready to shut down by October 21.

Katy Korkos with the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce told the Los Alamos Monitor that the impact of the shutdown at LANL could hit subcontractors in the area twice as hard as other entities because they will never be able to recover the income that they're losing currently.

Energy Solutions, a subcontractor that processes and ships transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad has had to lay off 154 workers.

The general manager of a department store in Los Alamos was quoted in the newspaper saying, "Anytime the lab sneezes, we catch cold."

In southern New Mexico, Crysta Quintero told the Las Cruces Sun-News that she was immediately worried for her 3-year-old son after hearing about the federal government shutdown.

That's because she relies upon the federal WIC program to supply a prescription baby formula for her son, who has a disability.

Unfortunately, Crysta is not alone.

Tens of thousands of women and children in New Mexico who receive assistance from the program every month could be left without vital nutritional support if the shutdown continues to drag on.

What's also at stake is the incredible work being done at New Mexico's colleges and universities. These first-rate research institutions rely heavily on federal grants to fund staff, trainings, and projects, including clinical trials for Cancer treatment.

I'm told that those trials--and years of hard work--will have to pause or even stop if the government stays closed. Scientists will see their salaries reduced, and research students who want to dedicate their lives to find the next cure will have to wait even longer to earn their degrees.

Because of the shutdown, important job-creating investments in small business--the engine of our economy--are delayed. On average, over $300,000 in federal loans are approved for small businesses in New Mexico each and every day.

But not today, Mr. President.

Because of this reckless and irresponsible shutdown those small business aren't getting the loans to grow their business.  They aren't hiring new workers.

New Mexico is home to many of the nation's most treasured public conservation lands, including National Parks like Carlsbad Caverns, BLM Monuments like the newly created Rio Grande del Norte, and National Forests like the Gila and Carson that are unstaffed during the fall hunting seasons.

More than 4,000 men and women work on these public lands and they are being forced to stay home.

Andrew Graves is an entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Albuquerque.  Specifically, Andrew is in a program called Forest Health Protection that works across agency lines providing expertise and assistance to Federal and Tribal land managers throughout New Mexico so that they can deal with outbreaks of disease or insect infestations.

Andrew says they've already cancelled or postponed meetings and trainings because of the shutdown.

And each day the government remains closed, thousands of people who had planned to visit our national parks and wildlife refuges will be turned away.

That doesn't just hurt the government.  Restaurants and hotels, tire shops and grocery stores feel this pain in towns like Socorro, Taos, Grants, Alamogordo and Las Cruces.

Because of the shutdown, the Bureau of Land Management has stopped processing energy leases on federal land.

A lengthy delay in the permitting process will not only take a toll on New Mexico's oil and gas industry, but also on the revenues generated for New Mexico's schools.

And the 8,000 New Mexican children enrolled in Head Start are feeling the impact of the shutdown on top of the cuts that sequestration already imposed on that critical program. 

And the shutdown also endangers the benefits we owe to over 170,000 veterans in New Mexico. Mr. President, the VA will run out of money to pay mandatory benefits by the end of October if we don't act.

Americans are fed up. Other debates in recent years have been just as heated and partisan, but this crisis is far more dangerous for the country.

The American people--my constituents in New Mexico--want their government to function again. The federal workers in my state want to get back to work.

Our constituents want us to move past the gridlock and govern.  They want economic security and to be able to take care of their families.

It is time to reopen the government.  It is time to take the threat of default off the table, and it is time to stop playing games with the livelihoods of hard-working Americans.