Thomas J. Donohue Thomas J. Donohue
Advisor and Former Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


January 28, 2019


Thirty-five days. Eight-hundred thousand furloughed workers. More than five billion dollars in damage to the U.S. economy. This was the government shutdown by the numbers—and the numbers don’t even begin to tell the human story.

Take the experience of Jerry and Gaila Brandon, owners of the 102-year-old Riverview Hotel in St. Marys, Georgia. Jerry and Gaila’s business serves the thousands of Americans who visit Cumberland Island National Seashore each year. Thanks to the popularity of this tourist destination, the Brandons’ hotel—which has been family owned and operated for nearly a century—could always depend on a steady stream of customers.

Until the government shutdown.

This man-made disaster brought business to a grinding halt. Due to a lack of federal funding, the National Park Service suspended ferry transport to Cumberland Island—a move that essentially evaporated the Brandons’ customer pool overnight. Where the couple once worried about overbooking and hiring enough staff to sustain their growing business, they began to worry about the very real prospect of filing for bankruptcy.

The Brandons’ story was just one of thousands more. These stories illustrate the human toll of the government shutdown: layoffs that left families reeling, lost revenue that crushed small business owners, and missed paychecks that led to missed meals. While federal workers will receive back pay, the Jerry and Gaila Brandons of the world will not. The money they lost is lost forever. No check from Uncle Sam can cover their troubles; no act of Congress can bring their business back.

America’s workers and job creators should not have to pay the price for political games in Washington—yet sadly, they did. At a Chamber Foundation event last Friday highlighting the human and economic costs of day 35 of the shutdown, we heard from businesses of all sizes and a wide range of industries that, like the Brandons, were hurting from the shutdown.

But during this ordeal, we also saw the best of business on display. While many companies were hurting, they were also helping. Businesses large and small offered free or discounted meals, providing services at no cost, waiving fees, and giving other forms of financial assistance to help all those who had been impacted, including government workers who missed paychecks.

As the voice of American business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce calls on Congress and the administration to work together to keep the government open. Our nation simply cannot afford another shutdown. Our message to Washington’s leaders is simple: do your jobs so Americans can do theirs.

About the authors

Thomas J. Donohue

Thomas J. Donohue

Thomas J. Donohue is advisor and former chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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