For better or worse, President Donald Trump’s actions have already touched Whidbey Island, though most local government officials are in a wait-and-see mode in regard to other possible impacts from his administration’s maneuvers.
So far, his actions have meant a hiring freeze on the Navy base and more red tape for one popular federal program, as well as uncertainty about the future of Island County Health programs and federal grants for the City of Langley if it becomes a “sanctuary city.”
Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is in a growth phase, but Trump’s hiring freeze on all federal civilian employees means no one can be hired on the base at this time, according to Public Affairs Officer Mike Welding. The hiring freeze doesn’t apply to military personnel.
“This hiring freeze is in effect until implementation of a long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal government’s workforce through attrition; this plan is required to be submitted within 90 days by the Office of Management and Budget, in coordination with the Office of Personnel Management,” according to the base.
Among the president’s early actions is a requirement that means more paperwork for the Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, said Keith Higman, director of Island County Public Health. The federal program provides supplemental nutrition to low-income families.
A new rule under the Trump administration requires agencies that implement the program to complete supplemental paperwork to double-check that recipients are income eligible. The government’s own studies show that fraud is very rare in the program, the Washington Post reported.
“It means we’ll have less time to provide services,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen successfully fought last year to keep a WIC office open at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island since many Navy families rely on the extra help.
Trump also froze all grants and contracts with the EPA. Higman said five staff positions in Public Health are funded with EPA grants. One position, for example, investigates failing septic systems and works with property owners to get them fixed.
The Trump administration gave no indication as to how long the freeze will last or even whether there will be a thaw. As a result, all officials can do is wait and see what happens, Higman said.
The Langley City Council is considering a request from some residents to become a sanctuary city, which is a municipality that has adopted policies to protect undocumented immigrants. Trump’s threat to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities could cost the city $1.4 million in road-improvement funds from 2017 to 2021 if it moves ahead with the request.
Trump also ordered EPA officials not to speak with the media. Last week, several EPA officials spoke with the Whidbey News-Times about a groundwater chemical plume that’s migrated under the city of Oak Harbor. This week they aren’t able to discuss the matter or answer follow-up questions.
A spokeswoman for the EPA said she plans to be at an upcoming meeting about a separate issue on Whidbey, which is the Navy’s ongoing testing of drinking-water wells for potentially hazardous chemicals found in firefighting foam. She said she might not be able to answer questions, however, if the gag order persists.
In Oak Harbor, City Administrator Doug Merriman said the freeze on EPA grants shouldn’t have any effect on the grants the city secured for the sewage treatment plant project, though some of them originate with the federal government.
“Nothing is in jeopardy at this time,” he said.
Like people across the country, Merriman is waiting to see if the Affordable Care Act will be repealed and what it will be replaced with. Such action could have a significant impact on the city’s health care plan, he said.