Federal employees prepare for a long shutdown

A quarter of the federal government will likely begin the new year out of work or working without pay....

Posted: Jan 2, 2019 3:58 PM
Updated: Jan 2, 2019 3:58 PM

A quarter of the federal government will likely begin the new year out of work or working without pay.

For the 380,000 federal employees on furlough and the other 420,000 working without pay, this means it's time to start making plans for how to pay January bills without the promise of their next paycheck as part of the government remains shutdown.

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The US Office of Personnel Management tweeted out sample letters for federal employees to send to their creditors, mortgage companies or landlords. The letters suggest that employees ask to pay a reduced amount or create a payment plan in the coming months because they are out of work and not getting paid during the shutdown.

Each sample letter ends with, "I appreciate your willingness to work with me and your understanding during this difficult time."

The sample letter for employees to send to their landlords suggests they offer to trade services like painting or carpentry work "in exchange for partial rent payments."

Trump says workers support the shutdown

On Christmas Day, speaking from the Oval Office, Trump said that many federal workers support the shutdown. He said, "But many of those workers have said to me and communicated, stay out until you get the funding for the wall." On Thursday, he tweeted, "Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?"

Trump offered no evidence that most of the 800,000 people working without pay or not working belong to the Democratic Party.

"The federal government is an apolitical workforce comprised of hardworking veterans, law enforcement officers, scientists, analysts, janitors, nurses and many other civil servants all with diverse backgrounds and demographics," J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told CNN in a statement. "A government shutdown doesn't hurt any one political party or any one federal employee more than another, it hurts all of them."

The American Federation of Government Employees is a labor union that represents over 700,000 federal employees at several agencies.

A representative of AFGE local chapter 1637, who is an employee at the Bureau of Prisons in Texas, said that she does not support the shutdown. The employee is considered "essential," so she is working without pay during the shutdown.

"Personally, I'm like, what federal employees are you talking to? Because it's not people at my institution," she told CNN. "None of us want the government shut down. None of us want to be working and not getting paid. Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, Green parties, all of us that work, at least at my facility, we want to get paid."

This federal employee works the overnight shift at her job. She is engaged and planning a July wedding. This week, she missed putting deposits down at her wedding reception venue and church. She also canceled an appointment to start getting her wedding dress made next week. She's worried that if she puts those payments down now, and the shutdown continues, she won't be able to pay her rent and other more pressing bills in the coming months.

"That's thousands of dollars that I can't just put out somewhere not knowing when I'm going to get paid again," she said. "My well-being is not at stake, but my dreams and hopes for something in life are being fractured and highly possibly shattered."

She said that because some people are frustrated they are not getting paid and still have to work, they are not showing up to work. This means that she and some others at her facility are also working mandatory overtime during this period.

She expressed frustration with some of the comments being made by lawmakers in Washington.

"As federal employees, when statements are made, the effects and attitudes that respond from it are negative and frustration, because you are not in our shoes. You're not experiencing what we're experiencing," she said. "If the shoe were on the other foot, if you took a day at my job, would you really feel like what you're doing right now is right?"

Across the country, the Esparza family in Kent, Washington, along with some 42,000 other active duty Coast Guard members, will not be paid during the shutdown.

The Coast Guard is the only military branch that isn't paid during the government shutdown; they technically are part of the Department of Homeland Security. However, the Coast Guard announced Friday night that the administration has identified a way to ensure "military members that served on active duty in the month of December and those reserve military members that drilled prior to the lapse in appropriation" will get paid on December 31.

"This isn't our first rodeo," Jacqui Esparza says, but she's expecting it to be the worst one ever. Her husband, Joshua, has been in the Coast Guard for 14 years.

Now, the Esparzas are trying to get a hold on what bills must be paid, and what can wait.

"First thing was we can get almost all the bills paid, but what are we going to do about rent, because our rent comes from my husband's pay, which includes housing allowance," she says. "Without that we can't afford the Seattle area."

Esparza estimates that they'll incur about $200 in late fees; money her family doesn't have -- especially after the holidays.

The pain doesn't stop in their bank accounts. Jacqui Esparza is mourning the loss of their grandfather.

The airfare cost is just another financial hit to their bank account.

"The politicians can bicker all the want on Capital Hill," she says. "But stop using the military and their pay as a bargaining chip."

Shutdown stretches into second week

While some federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Smithsonian museums were able to use other funds to remain open for the first week of the shutdown, as the shutdown enters week two, those funds have dried up.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler sent an email to agency staff on Dec. 27 informing them that if a shutdown deal was not reached by midnight on Dec. 28, the agency would begin orderly shutdown procedures. The Smithsonian announced that all museums, research centers and facilities, including the National Zoo, would close starting Jan. 2 if a shutdown deal was not reached.

At the National Zoo in Washington, DC, all animals will continue to be fed and cared for during the shutdown, but live animal cams, including the popular Panda Cam, would no longer broadcast once the zoo closes.

According to the zoo's website, the cameras require "federal resources, primarily staff, to run" and are "deemed non-essential."

National Parks across the country remain "as accessible as possible," during the shutdown, according to an agency spokesperson. For some parks, state and city governments have stepped in to cover funding and keep them open.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would provide funding to keep the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island open. In Philadelphia, a local nonprofit organization, VISIT PHILADELPHIA, donated money to keep Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell open for three days starting Dec. 28.

"People come to New York, they come to see the sights, and it's important at this dark time in our country to keep the torch on the Statue of Liberty lit, metaphorically," Cuomo said on radio station WAMC on Dec. 27.

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