The longest government shutdown in the nation’s history is finally over–at least for three weeks.
As the country tries to get back to normal, it’s appropriate to consider those whom the shutdown harmed, those who will have a harder time getting back on their feet–if they ever can.
Federal government contract workers are some the lowest paid government employees.
The National Park Service, NASA, the Coast Guard, border patrol, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) ranks are now swelling with workers with damaged credit ratings, missed mortgage payments, unnecessary debts, and doubts about their future job security.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ vice president, Alison Hirsch, explained:
“These are not folks who can afford to miss a paycheck. These are not folks who are making enough money to have a robust savings account. It can permanently alter their credit scores, their ability to support themselves.”
One examples is Yvette Hicks, 40, a security guard at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, who said that no sooner did Donald Trump agree to sign a temporary spending bill to re-open the government when bill collectors starting calling for the money she owes them.
“I had bill collectors calling me back-to-back-to-back wondering when I could start making a payment arrangement.”
Hicks is one of thousands of federal government contractors not expecting to be compensated for the work they missed during the 35-day partial shutdown.
She remains at risk if Trump and lawmakers fail to reach a longer agreement to keep the government open.
Hicks, who was once homeless, was forced to ration her children’s asthma medication, considered cashing in a life insurance policy, and prayed she could keep her family from once again living on the street.
Leisyka Parrott, 47, a furloughed Bureau of Land Management employee, said:
“I have the luxury that friends have loaned me one paycheck. The thing is when you get back pay, all the fees that you incur by missing payments–you don’t get paid back for those. If you are late for a payment and have a $25 fee, the government doesn’t pay for that.”
“I budget ahead of time for Christmas and have saved for my son’s college tuition that will be due soon. So the burden of the shutdown for my family is more [of a] concern for my [family’s] living expense in the near future. Paying my mortgage, groceries & truck payment, etc. We’re blue-collar workers. We’re not making six-figure salaries like Mr. Trump or Mr. Pence.”
Federal law enforcement agency employee, Colleen Regan, 31, has so little savings, she was living in a friend’s basement in Chicago.
“I’m also a wounded veteran so I draw a pension and it’s enough to cover some of my bills but not all. Everyone says you should have managed your money better. It stinks.”
“I can survive on very little, but once the bills hit this month, the money’s going to be gone.”
Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) supervisor Angel Stephensen was working for free during the shutdown’s first two weeks.
“My husband works [for TSA] as well, so our entire household income is stopped because of this. We are both essential, so we are required to report to work and do our jobs with no idea as to when our next paycheck will post. We do have some savings so we are better off than many that we work with, but the stress and anxiety of not knowing if we will get paid when we are supposed to is exhausting.”
U.S. army corps of engineers employee and Local 98 of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers president, Franco DiCroce, added:
“There’s all kinds of issues with raising families, just buying gasoline. Most of these people, their salaries are not skyrocketing. They’re suffering even more, because some of them live check-to-check, so if they don’t have money coming in, they’re going to have difficulty meeting their needs, to even buy groceries.”
Scores of Americans had to rely on food banks to survive–and still might have to.
How much did the shutdown hurt the economy?
According to Reuters:
“The U.S. economy lost at least $6 billion during the partial shutdown of the federal government due to lost productivity from furloughed workers and economic activity lost to outside business, S&P Global Ratings said on Friday.”
According to the Huffington Post:
“For one thing, some federal contract employees won’t get back pay. While Congress routinely approves back pay for federal workers during shutdowns, people who work for companies that provide services ― such as thousands of janitors and security officers who work in federal buildings ― don’t receive the same consideration.
“For another, millions of Americans will have to stretch their food budgets. The federal government ordered states to distribute February’s food benefit payments several weeks early because of the shutdown. More than 38 million Americans receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, and they’ll now have to wait until March for their next payment. Some beneficiaries may have already spent the February allotment, thinking it was some kind of accidental bonus.”
After holding Americans hostage for five billion dollars of taxpayer money for a wall along the southern US border with Mexico, Trump finally capitulated Friday to a temporary bipartisan spending bill that does not include that sum.
This led the New York Times Editorial Board to comment:
“What a debacle President Trump’s shutdown proved to be—what a toddler’s pageant of foot-stomping and incompetence, of vainglory and self-defeat. Mr. Trump tormented public servants and citizens and wounded the country, and, in conceding on Friday after holding the government hostage for 35 days, could claim to have achieved nothing.”
But this is not stopping Trump from flirting with possibly shutting it down February 15 if Congress does not present him an acceptable long-term budget.
On Friday, he tweeted:
“I wish people would read or listen to my words on the Border Wall. This was in no way a concession. It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”
“Off to the races” is how this president describes the plight 800,000 federal workers might be subjected to again over a wall.
This is America today.
Image credit: Flickr