How will the US Government shutdown affect Jamaica?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

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For good or for bad, our long, deep and historic ties with the United States mean that Jamaica is hardly likely to escape unscathed any major adverse development affecting the North American giant.

Indeed, some witty Jamaican has said “When America coughs, Jamaica catches cold”, which is just another way of saying that, whether we like it or not, we are in the same boat.

It is difficult not to imagine that Jamaica will be adversely affected by the partial shutdown of the US Government, in the latest battle between Democrats and President Donald Trump, who insists he must get money from Congress to build a wall on the southern border between the States and Mexico.

Mr Trump argues that the wall is necessary to improve border security to keep out illegal immigrants, including drug dealers and other criminals using that corridor to enter the United States. For their part, the Democrats are holding the president to his pre-election promise that Mexico would pay for the wall, and are maintaining that the crisis is a manufactured one.

Both sides are at a standstill, while an estimated 800,000 federal employees are not getting paid, some of them forced to work because they are in essential services. Of course, many Jamaicans who work with the State are among them.

Depending on how long the impasse continues, we would not be surprised if there is a fall-off in remittances from Jamaicans in the US. At the macro level, this could have an impact on the net international reserves (NIR) which, at last count, stood at a healthy US$3 billion.

While they are not earning, people are reluctant to spend on non-essential things such as vacation travel and that could affect tourist arrivals, and the like.

At the micro level, many Jamaicans, including schoolchildren, dependent parents and grandparents and unemployed relatives, could find themselves without support for their basic existence, especially if remittances were their only source.

It certainly would be useful to hear how the Jamaican Government is viewing the developments and what contingencies could be employed if they become necessary.

Neither side in the dispute has shown any willingness to yield. In fact, the Miami International Airport has closed an entire terminal and long lines are reported at those still operating, as more and more employees call in sick, apparently because they are not being paid.

Mightn't it become necessary for additional provisions to be made for the social security programmes, like PATH, to help stave off potential suffering among Jamaicans dependent on the monthly financial support from overseas?

Obviously, we are hoping that a compromise would be reached, allowing the Government to be reopened in the shortest possible time. Many other countries are similarly affected and are no doubt praying that the Americans will take into account the fact that the shutdown has serious repercussions well beyond US shores.

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