Furloughed workers are frustrated, feeling the stress and economic strain of a prolonged government shutdown as President Trump and congressional leaders kept up their bickering Wednesday over funding for a border wall.
The real-world impacts of the Pennsylvania Avenue standoff have become increasingly clear as federal employees face their first full wage period without a paycheck and prepare for the worst as the President walked out of negotiations and said the impasse will last “whatever it takes.”
“There’s a lot of unknowns and a lot of stress,” Antony Tseng, the president of AFGE local 3911 and an engineer with the Environmental Protection Agency, told the Daily News. “We’d rather be working and not have the uncertainty.”
Tseng, who lives in Beacon, Dutchess County, and works in Manhattan, hasn’t been to his office since being deemed a nonessential employee by the government.
Despite the status, he counts himself as one of the lucky one because he’ll receive half of his normal pay at the end of the week because the EPA had enough funds in reserve to cover it. However, if the deadlock — already in its 19th day — lasts much longer, he could be in trouble.
“For a lot of people, we go check to check. There’s very little flexibility,” the 46-year-old said. “ Living just on what we have on hand and trying to scale back on food and lowering the thermostat to save money. I’m definitely eating a lot more baloney sandwiches than I’d like.”
In Washington, less than 24 hours after Trump made a fact-challenged prime-time plea for a border wall, union leaders laid out the devastating economic impact the shutdown is having on rank-and-file federal workers during a Capitol Hill appearance with Democratic lawmakers.
“Employees can’t make their car payments, they can’t pay their day care providers, if you don’t pay your daycare provider you lose your slot and that is serious business,” said Holly Salamido, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees Housing and Urban Development council. “With the length of time this shutdown has gone on, people are going to start missing mortgage payments, which could affect their credit rating. These financial impacts are serious.”
A phalanx of federal workers flanked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as they tore into Trump for refusing to sign any shutdown-ending legislation that doesn’t include taxpayer funding for the border wall he used to promise Mexico would pay for.
Schumer called workers the “collateral damage” of Trump’s “temper tantrum.”
Larry Hirsch, 59, the vice president of local 913, representing HUD employees in New York, said there’s no reason Trump and Republicans can’t sign off on spending bills restoring parts of the government unrelated to border security.
“It’s frustrating because we have nothing to do with the wall. Lets get our agencies open and then let them keep negotiating about the border,” Hirsch said.
The shutdown, which began Dec. 22, has closed nine federal departments and dozens of agencies. A total of 800,000 federal workers are impacted with more than half of them — including Transportation Security Administration agents, air traffic controllers and federal prison officers — being forced to work without pay.
A Food and Drug Administration official revealed Wednesday the agency has been precluded from carrying out any domestic food inspections since the shutdown began. FDA brass are now scrambling to bring back furloughed employees to work without pay in order to inspect foods deemed “high risk,” such as seafood and some dairy products, the official said.
“We’re working to do it as quickly as possible,” the official told The News, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
Meanwhile, a union president for TSA workers said some agents are quitting or threatening to quit their jobs due to the shutdown, a situation that could “create a massive security risk for American travelers.”
“Every day I’m getting calls from my members about their extreme financial hardships and need for a paycheck,” said AFGE TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas. “Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this.”
Despite Trump’s claims that furloughed workers back his unbending stance on a border wall, a second union representing federal employees also filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the shutdown.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which reps 150,000 members, joined the AFGE in filing suit against the government.
Albert Vieira, a Customs and Border Protection officer being forced to work without pay, is the plaintiff in the complaint alleging the government is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by requiring select employees to work without pay.
Hirsch noted he and his colleagues aren’t the only ones who will feel the ill effects of a shutdown should it last longer than the 21 day record set in 1996.
“I have mortgage payments and there are people who are worried about making rent or who are living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “But we’re also concerned about the ripple effect. We work with groups that provide services to homeless New Yorkers and they rely on grants that are tied up.”
Hirsch added, “We want to serve the public and do what we do, that’s all.”
Trump, meanwhile, stormed out of a sit-down with Pelosi and Schumer at the White House after visiting Capitol Hill in an attempt to calm congressional Republicans.
The President has been considering a national emergency declaration to bypass Congress and allocate the $5.7 billion he wants for the wall from the military. Trump reaffirmed Wednesday he “may do that at some point” — although legal experts contend such a maneuver could likely be unconstitutional.
Sunny Blaylock, a designer for a Virginia tech company that develops foreign service apps for the State Department, has been out of work since the shutdown began.
The 39-year-old countered Trump’s claim that federal workers and contractors such as herself support keeping the government closed until the wall is funded. ‘
“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” she scoffed. “I haven’t met anyone who’s not willing to get paid out of some sort of patriotism.”
Since she’s a contractor — not a federal employee — she won’t be getting any back pay and she’s going on nearly four weeks without pay. Blaylock’s husband, a State Department diplomat, has worked without pay for the entirety of the shutdown.