Smithsonian, EPA Ready to Close as Shutdown Toll Deepens

(Bloomberg) -- More lights are going out in U.S. government offices as the partial federal shutdown heads toward a second week and entities from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Smithsonian Institution run out of money.

Nearly 14,000 workers at the EPA prepared to be furloughed at midnight, the seventh day of a shutdown that showed scant signs of ending. The Smithsonian said all museums, research centers and the National Zoo will close starting Jan. 2 unless the shutdown ends. The Federal Trade Commission in a tweet said it had closed.

Earlier, the Federal Communications Commission said it could remain open through Jan. 2, and after that would have to stop accepting consumer complaints.

Most of the federal government isn’t affected, but about 350,000 workers for nine departments are staying home amid a dispute between President Donald Trump and Congress over funding for a proposed wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress appear to be digging in their heels, and the closure appeared likely to stretch into the new year.

Bartering for Rent

Idled workers may wish to reach out to creditors, the Office of Personnel Management, which manages federal workers, said online on Thursday. Some may wish to write to landlords to discuss “the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments,” according to a templated letter posted by the personnel office.

Mortgage holders, meanwhile, could try informing their lender that “my income has been severely cut and I am unable to pay the entire cost of my mortgage,” according to another letter drafted by the personnel office. The office said workers may want to “consult with your personal attorney” -- a suggestion that drew waves of online scorn.

The EPA used funds already on hand to continue operation for one week, but is on the brink of exhausting those. In a message to staff on Thursday, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that without new funding from Congress “by midnight Friday, Dec. 28,” employees would be placed on furlough, with travel canceled for all furloughed employees.

Under an FCC plan released earlier, the agency would continue to run its 24-hour emergency-calls center even if most of its workers are required to stay home.

The Smithsonian said closings would include the popular National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of African American History & Culture on the National Mall in Washington, and the Cooper Hewitt design museum in New York. An estimated 20.9 million people visited its 21 free museums and zoo in the first 10 months of the year.

The Federal Trade Commission said its closure meant that “we won’t be able to answer your questions on Twitter. Consumers cannot file complaints or register for Do No Call at this time.” Preliminary merger reviews will continue, the agency said.

Federal courts are projected to have enough money to keep operating through Jan. 11, though it’s not a firm date, said David Sellers, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts.

U.S. attorneys have asked courts to postpone some proceedings until the shutdown ends. While judges have balked in some cases, the chief federal judge in Manhattan granted the local U.S. Attorney’s request to suspend work on civil cases involving government lawyers.

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