Thursday morning was slow for Nick Williams, manager of a mostly empty Nobi Public House in Webster. The lunch crowd had yet to arrive, and this time of year tends to be quieter than usual, Williams said.
But with so many of the restaurant’s regulars furloughed during a federal government shutdown, business has been even slower than usual, Williams said.
“The regulars you are used to seeing, you aren’t seeing as often,” he said.
While Galveston County is home to more than 2,500 federal employees affected by the shutdown — from U.S. Coast Guard to NASA workers — its effects are most apparent in the northern parts of the county and in Harris County, near Johnson Space Center.
NASA employees account for lots of regular business and, while some days are busier than others, it’s generally been slower, said Frankie Camera, an owner of Frenchie’s Italian Restaurant in Webster.
Federal employees account for between 65 percent and 70 percent of his business, Williams said.
The shutdown, which entered its 34th day on Thursday, began in late December when President Donald Trump said he would refuse to sign a measure to keep the government funded unless it included $5 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives refused add that money.
Locally, that means lots of NASA engineers have been unable to work and projects are stacking up, said Rodney Rocha, an engineer at Johnson Space Center for almost 45 years, who was eating at Frenchie’s on Thursday.
“It’s frustrating,” Rocha said. “I’d rather be working and producing.”
Rocha is part of a group of federal employees termed “accepted,” which means they are working on some projects that must be done, he said. But Rocha isn’t being paid, he said.
Most of that work, however, has been limited to teleconferencing about ongoing projects, Rocha said.
While Rocha is in a better financial position than some of his colleagues he has read about, he still enjoys checking in with fellow NASA employees and knowing that everyone is in the same situation, he said.
“This is the longest, most intractable shutdown I’ve ever been through,” said Rocha, while saying he didn’t want to comment on the politics of the situation.
The space program suffers the longer the shutdown continues, Rocha said.
A splintered U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected competing Democratic and Republican plans for reopening the government, leaving the clock ticking in what is already the longest-ever closure of federal agencies, according to The Associated Press.
The votes could weaken Trump’s position in negotiations, however, as the Democratic proposal got two more votes than the Republican plan after six Republicans defected and voted for the opposing plan, according to The Associated Press.
The Senate first rejected the Republican plan reopening government through September and giving Trump the $5.7 billion he’s demanding in a 50-47 vote, 10 shy of the 60 votes needed to succeed, according to The Associated Press.
Senators then voted 52-44 in favor of the Democratic alternative that would have funded agencies through Feb. 8 with no money for a wall, according to The Associated Press.
As local businesses and workers await news about the end of the shutdown, several local business owners are reaching out to furloughed workers.
The Art of Coffee Clear Lake, for instance, by word of mouth is offering workers who show a federal ID a free cup of house coffee, said Mona McGinnis, a barista.
That has actually increased business for the coffee shop and café, McGinnis said.
“We had four people come in earlier and show their badges,” McGinnis said. “It’s been crazy every day.”
Federal workers account for about 20 percent of the business’ customers, McGinnis said.