From taxes to whale counting, the partial government shutdown is packing a punch

From taxes to whale counting, the partial government shutdown is packing a punch
The Internal Revenue Service's offices in Hawaii have been closed since the government shutdown started last month. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the partial government shutdown stretches in a third week, anxiety is growing each day for federal employees in Hawaii who have been furloughed or are working without pay.

The impasse is happening during the start of the tax season.

There are 83 Internal Revenue Service employees in the state, according to the local chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union. Most have been furloughed, except for some essential workers. As the stalemate drags on, the employees join hundreds of thousands across the nation that are worried they’ll miss their first paycheck next Monday.

“They’re really concerned because we all need to pay our rent or mortgage, there’s tuition for school, there’s childcare expenses,” said John Johnson, president of the union’s local chapter.

Johnson said he expects delays for the filing season since the IRS was working on changes to the nation’s tax code.

“We’re really trying to do this great change with very few resources so we were behind to begin with so take off two weeks, you’re further behind,” he said.

Out on the ocean, the Coast Guard is only providing essential services such as search and rescue, marine environmental protection and law enforcement. There are roughly 1,000 personnel in the 14th District. Since the shutdown started, the agency has responded to 46 cases, including the fire on the cargo carrier Serenity Ace.

“Activities like recreational boardings or safety checks, the issuance or renewals of merchant documentation and licensing, some fisheries patrols are examples of things that aren’t necessarily happening,” explained Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir.

The dispute is also impacting research on humpback whales during the peak of the season, with fewer of them returning to Hawaii in recent years.

“We’re not sure about the reason why that is occurring and unfortunately, really important science that would be going on by the government right now as well as partners that they support can’t take place,” said Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

The annual Ocean Count done by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was in jeopardy until its national non-profit partner stepped in to coordinate the event that happens on the last Saturday of January, February and March. The community citizen science project has provided more than two decades of data that supplements scientific research.

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