Fed up federal employees just want to go back to work.
As the partial government shutdown stretches into its fourth week, the economic strain of not getting paid weighed heavily on the likes of Stephanie Sessoms-Midgett, an environmental scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency from Elmhurst, Queens.
Most government workers received their last paycheck two weeks ago, and Friday will be the first payday with no money as President Trump refuses to sign any spending measure reopening the government unless it includes funds for a border wall.
“It’s very depressing because we have a job and it’s not like it’s our choice not to work. It’s like this was put upon us,” Sessoms-Midgett said.
The 51-year-old joined dozens of fellow federal workers at a rally outside the EPA’s Lower Manhattan offices on Thursday. Workers marched up and down Broadway, chanting “Reopen the government!” and “We want to work!” while holding signs with similar messages.
Sessoms-Midgett said her two sons, 16 and 23, have had a hard time wrapping their heads around just how dire the situation is.
“I don’t think they really understand, well at least the younger one, that we’re actually going to miss a paycheck,” she said. “I’ve got school loans to pay for my kids and then paying for lunch every day.”
Denise Zino, 59, said her family is already making sacrifices as they face the financial consequences of the impasse over President Trump’s proposed border wall.
“I want to go back to work because I need to put a plate of food on the table, pay my mortgage, light and heat,” she said.
Zino, who lives with her retired husband, her two adult children, and four grandchildren, was able to cover the mortgage payment on her Middletown home for January with her last paycheck but she’s not sure if she’ll enough for next month.
“They know the situation. Everyone is just trying to help in the best way that they can, saving in electricity in this or that,” she said. “For the car, I don’t have this month. I have to feed people. It’s not easy.”
Some workers are relying on donations, including launching GoFundMe campaigns. A food pantry has opened up at a Coast Guard base in Boston.
Members of the FBI Agents Association warned Thursday that the situation is affecting the bureau’s operations and could result in agents taking their talents elsewhere.
The group sent a petition to the White House and congressional leaders encouraging them to fund the FBI immediately, calling the situation a “matter of national security.”
Two federal employee unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, have filed suits on behalf of workers who haven’t been paid during the shutdown.
In Washington, hundreds more workers, contractors and union representatives marched to the White House, demanding Trump end his stalemate with Congressional Democrats over the wall.
Negotiations over the shutdown, which has left nine federal departments and several agencies closed since Dec. 22, remained at a standstill Thursday after Trump stormed out of a meeting with Dem leaders a day earlier.
“It’s a national disgrace,” Gabriel Pedreira, legislative and political organizer for the AFGE in the Northeast said. “This has nothing to do with border security. You’re punishing workers who have nothing to do with the wall.”
Pedreira said the AFGE will begin setting up food banks in the city to help federal workers struggling to make ends meet.
“Our members are scared, they’re ashamed,” he added. “It’s hard, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s the President and the Senate leaders who should be ashamed.”
Trump spent the day talking about border security in McAllen, Texas, near the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest part of the border for illegal border crossings. He was met by more protesters.
Several hundred people chanted and waved signs opposing a border wall next to the South Texas airport where Air Force One landed. Across the street, a smaller group of protesters shouted back, chanting, “Build that wall!”
In Lower Manhattan, Keith Polite, 55, of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said he has enough cash in savings to last him through his next round of bills.
After that, he’ll be forced to dip into his 401(k) plan — and absorb the financial penalties that entails — just to keep a roof over his head.
“I’m not a rich guy,” he said. “I’m eating Ramen noodles.”
Polite has worked as a security guard at the National Museum of the American Indian near Bowling Green for the last four years, but is not technically a government employee. The firm he works for, Allied Universal, is a government contractor, and as a result, he won’t receive any back pay from the feds or his employer.
He cashed the last paycheck he expects to get during the shutdown Wednesday and laid the blame squarely at Trump’s feet, describing the shutdown as a distraction orchestrated to draw people’s attention away from other controversies surrounding him.