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January 16, 2019

‘I JUST DON’T SEE HOW THIS IS GOING TO END’: Federal workers fearful of future as shutdown set to become longest in history

January 11, 2019
EPA employee Rosanne Sawaya-Obrien holds her sing during a rally and protest by government workers and concerned citizens against the government shutdown on Friday at Post Office Square near the Federal building, headquarters for the EPA and IRS in Boston. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO / AFP / Getty Images)

The Trump shutdown is about to become one for the history books.

President Trump’s stubborn refusal to reopen the government until Congress OK’s funds for a border wall reached its 21st day Friday, and is set to become the longest federal shutdown on record.

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The dubious distinction comes on what should have been payday for hundreds of thousands of workers.

About 800,000 frustrated federal employees are furloughed, either forced to work without pay or told to stay home as the shutdown drags into its fourth week and the administration eyes using billions in unspent disaster relief funds earmarked for hurricane-pounded Puerto Rico and Texas to pay for the President’s promised partition.

Fuming workers posted pictures of $0 pay stubs on social media, lashed out at the deadlock in Washington and began looking for alternative ways to keep up with bills, mortgage payments and rent.

Some Transportation Security Administration officers working at area airports have taken to second jobs to make ends meet, according to Thomas Schregge, a union representative for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2222 which covers members working at 23 airports in New York and New Jersey.

“It’s scary because it has lasted so long and people don’t see any end in sight,” Schoregge said.

A few of his colleagues have started driving for car companies like Uber and Lyft when not screening passengers preparing to board flights.

The 39-year-old father of two young children has worked for the TSA for 16 years and said he’s seen no sign of any slowdowns or officers calling in sick despite not being paid as has been reported over the past week.

“Our first priority is keeping the flying public safe,” he said. “That’s the job we chose and it shows the dedication of the officers to their job.”

Many workers live paycheck to paycheck, with the typical federal employee making about $37 an hour, which translates into $1,480 a week, according to Labor Department data.

That’s nearly $1.2 billion in lost pay each week, when multiplied by 800,000 federal workers.

A Federal Reserve survey in May found that 40% of Americans would have to borrow or sell something to make a $400 emergency payment.

Facebook pages have popped up for people to buy items from furloughed federal workers while many of those affected are scaling back spending, canceling trips, applying for unemployment benefits and taking out loans to stay afloat.

Transportation Security Administration officers work at a checkpoint at O'Hare airport in Chicago on Friday, as the government shutdown likely stretches on to become the longest in American history.
Transportation Security Administration officers work at a checkpoint at O’Hare airport in Chicago on Friday, as the government shutdown likely stretches on to become the longest in American history. (Nam Y. Huh / AP)

Rachael Weatherly, a senior adviser for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the Associated Press she is considering getting a job at a grocery store.

The Maryland resident and mother of two said a recent separation from her spouse drained her bank account, and she is just beginning to re-establish her savings. She cannot afford to miss one paycheck.

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“I filed for unemployment. I’m waiting for that to come through,” she said.

Weatherly said her day care provider agreed to defer payments, as did her mortgage company. But she still worries any late mortgage payments could harm her credit score. The uncertainty, she said, is heightening her concerns.

“I just don’t see how this is going to end,” she said.

At the main Justice Department in Washington, the Daily News has learned that employees who are deemed essential are working upwards of 20 hours per day to cover for colleagues who are out on furlough.

Some teams comprising about 20 people are down to four or five because of the shutdown, leaving the remaining employees scrambling to keep the operation afloat.

A similar situation has unfolded at the State Department, with diplomatic brass working long shifts without being able to collect overtime because of their tenured status, the wife of a senior official told The News.

Ashley Tabbador, an immigration judge in Los Angeles and the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said she feels fortunate in that she has personal savings to hold her up through the shutdown but many of her fellow judges are struggling.

“Our public servants are the ones who are bearing the actual economic and emotional costs of all this,” Tabbador said. “Some of our judges have been asking about applying for unemployment and another judge is applying to put in a loan to meet his mortgage because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to.”

Many of her colleagues are facing a catch-22 because they can’t accumulate debt without jeopardizing the status of their background checks.

“They can let an existing debt go into default because our background checks rely on the consideration of our debts. So if we have debt that could jeopardize our ability to pass background checks,” Tabbador said. “They are now literally being penalized for the shutdown.”

The last time a shutdown lasted three weeks was a prolonged budget spat in December 1995 and January 1996 involving President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The current impasse showed no sign of coming to a close as the Senate adjourned until Monday and the House continued passing partial appropriations bills that the President has said he won’t sign.

The House approved legislation that would fund the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Forest Service in a 240-179 vote Friday as Democrats kept up their efforts to reopen the government piece by piece. Ten Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure.

It was the fourth such piece of legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House during the week.

But the bills are mostly symbolic as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he won’t put anything up for a vote the President won’t commit to signing.

McConnell has stayed out of the spotlight this week and his office has not returned numerous requests for comment.

“Mitch is in hiding,” a congressional aide said. “He’s doing no press and answering no questions, refusing to talk to Democrats until he gets his orders from the President. He is totally declawed.”

Trump, meanwhile, gave his strongest public indication yet he is leaning toward an emergency declaration to get funds for a border wall, saying Thursday that if negotiations don’t “work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely.”

The White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to comb through its budget, including $13.9 billion in emergency funds that Congress earmarked last year, to see what money could be diverted to the wall.

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