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Shutdown affected us in ways unseen

By Don Babwin

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 18 2013 8:00 a.m. MDT

In this Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 photo, Monique Howard, right, holds Waldo as she laughs with her son Carter after his asthma treatment at their home in Northbrook, Ill.

Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press

CHICAGO — Our food was a little less safe, our workplaces a little more dangerous. The risk of getting sick was a bit higher, our kids' homework tougher to complete.

The federal government shutdown may have seemed like a frustrating squabble in far-off Washington, but it crept into our lives in small, subtle ways — from missed vegetable inspections to inaccessible federal websites.

The "feds" always are there in the background, setting the standards by which we live, providing funds to research cures for our kids' illnesses, watching over our food supply and work environment.

So how did the shutdown alter our daily routines? Here's a look at a day in the life of the 2013 government shutdown.

WAKING UP

That sausage patty on your breakfast plate was safe as ever because meat inspectors — like FBI agents — are considered "essential" and remained at work. But federal workers who inspect just about everything else on your plate — from fresh berries to scrambled eggs — were furloughed.

The Food and Drug Administration, which in fiscal year 2012 conducted more than 21,000 inspections or contracted state agencies to conduct them, put off scores of other inspections at processing plants, dairies and other large food facilities. In all, 976 of the FDA's 1,602 inspectors were sent home.

About 200 planned inspections a week were put off, in addition to more than 8,700 inspections the federal government contracts state officials to perform, according to FDA spokesman Steven Immergut. That included unexpected inspections that keep food processors on their toes.

It worried Yadira Avila, a 34-year-old mother of two buying fruit and vegetables at a Chicago market.

"It's crazy because they (the FDA) sometimes find the bacteria," she said.

The FDA also stopped doing follow-ups on problems it previously detected at, for example, a seafood importer near Los Angeles and a dairy farm in Colorado.

And what about the food that made it to your plate? The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which furloughed 9,000 of its 13,000 workers, said the shutdown slowed its response to an outbreak of salmonella in chicken that sickened people in 18 states.

OFFICE HOURS

At a warehouse, factory or other worksite, a young minority exposed to racial slurs by his boss had one fewer place to turn for help. Federal officials who oversee compliance with discrimination laws and labor practices weren't working, except in emergencies.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was not issuing right-to-sue letters, so people could not take discrimination cases into federal court, said Peter Siegelman, an expert in workplace discrimination at the University of Connecticut's law school.

Workplaces weren't inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. One result? Employees could operate dangerous equipment even if not trained or old enough to do so.

"The afternoon before the shutdown we got a complaint of a restaurant where a ... 14-year-old was operating a vertical dough mixer," said James Yochim, assistant director of the U.S. Department of Labor's wage and hour division office in Springfield, Ill. "We (were) not able to get out there and conduct an investigation."

Yochim's office also put on hold an investigation at another restaurant of children reportedly using a meat slicer.

HOME SAFE

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