Washington, DC is an amazing city. I have lived in different places throughout my life, but there is definitely something unique about DC that I will truly miss when I move back to Baltimore to return to Hopkins as an employee (after receiving my Masters of Science in Public Health in Nutrition from Hopkins). DC is a conglomerate of some of the smartest and most motivated people I have ever met, so your knowledge is tested even at bars and cocktail parties. It is also beautiful; you can’t walk two blocks without coming across a monument or statue of some sort, which made my runs around the city fun and interesting. It is a unique place because DC has ‘taxation without representation’ (as the DC license plates will tell you), and so government agenda will trump the city if it has to.
I was surprised to hear the local news report that hundreds of DC driver’s license applicants are being asked to reschedule their road tests because they are short staffed. This is frustrating considering there is already a backlog of three months for driving exams. There is only one location in DC to take the road test, and there are only 5 driver examiners who administer the test–two of those inspectors are away on sick leave. No one is immune to budget cuts these days, but DC faces extra challenges because their budget is tied to the federal budget process. The District needs approval from Congress to enact its budget for local revenue. And thus our DMV horror stories will probably still beat others for a while yet.
Another common occurrence in DC that seems to disrupt the city is the road closures and blockades. A week ago Monday, my friends and I were near the Washington Monument, heading back into the city. The police stopped traffic on Constitution Ave, so that cars all were congested in all four corners, and pedestrians are at the edge of the sidewalk because the police officers will yell if anyone’s foot touches the street. We were trying to figure out what was going on as drivers were getting irritated and pedestrians were taking out their cell phones for a snap shot. And suddenly a slew of police cars drove through the empty street, followed by a few shiny black cars with the Israeli flag on them. Whenever this happens in DC, you first stare with paparazzi excitement of trying to catch the action before you look at your watch and worry about how much time is passing. You look for other routes which are swarming with other people with the same idea. Luckily, that day, we were trying to head to some shops and not on a time-crunch, otherwise I may have been more frustrated than amused.
Just when I thought I had already experienced the integral connection between DC and the government, the government shuts down! I understand how it takes time to come up with long term solutions, and you can’t have a deadline if you don’t have a plan, but the problem is that these times in limbo affect the politicians and the people differently. I had heard about the consequences of a government shutdown, from no trash in the District being collected, to government employees getting in trouble if they performed any work-related activity, to organizations using their resources to plan for a shut down instead of normal operations. These are obviously huge inconveniences, but there are also people who do not have the luxury of waiting. Many people cannot afford to put food on the table because their paycheck and next paycheck are on hold until a bill is passed by Congress, and there are many more who rely on government programs to make ends meet. Although the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will not be interrupted by the shutdown, no new funds will be available for WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children). AmpleHarvest.org becomes even more important at times like these; anyone growing fresh produce and has some to spare can donate it to food pantries who can then provide people who are hungry with food. Not just calories, but nourishment. Of course, the problem of hunger is not unique to DC but is a problem faced by millions of Americans across the country, even when there isn’t a government shutdown. So let’s hope that the government shut down ends soon, because hungry people cannot wait.