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Furloughed federal workers sweat looming payroll deadline

To most people, it's Tuesday -- but to furloughed federal workers across the US, it's "D day."If a de...

Posted: Jan. 9, 2019 12:32 AM
Updated: Jan. 9, 2019 12:32 AM

To most people, it's Tuesday -- but to furloughed federal workers across the US, it's "D day."

If a deal isn't struck to end the shutdown by midnight, the government won't be able to make its next payroll. That means workers will have to wait until January 26 at the earliest to get their next salary checks.

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"Tuesday is D Day," said Terrence Windham, a federal corrections officer in Aliceville, Alabama. "We're trying to do everything we can do to brace for the impact. It's almost like a hurricane."

Windham has worked for seven years at the Aliceville prison, a medium-security women's facility. He's also the union president and a member of the Aliceville City Council. He worries about what the shutdown will do to the economy of his hometown, which counts a population of just 3,218.

"Each of the employees at the federal prison, whether they live here or whether they (do) not, they have a significant impact on the financial aspect here," he said.

The average salary for a corrections officer at the Federal Correctional Institution in Aliceville is about $40,000 to $50,000 dollars a year, Windham and other workers said. That's double the town's median income, which is just under $20,000.

The town relies on the nearly 300 federal prison workers, many of whom drive in from the surrounding areas, to spend money at the town's few restaurants and gas stations. If they're not spending money, the town isn't making money.

"Friday is living on hope," says Heather Bryant, another corrections officer at the prison.

Without her paycheck this week, it will be a struggle to spend money on the gas she needs to drive 30 minutes from neighboring Reform, Alabama. That means she won't be spending any money in Aliceville either.

"I am a single parent, I have two children at home: a 16-year-old, and a 10-year-old," said Bryant. "I live paycheck to paycheck."

With her ex-husband also furloughed, she said she'll turn to her parents for temporary help.

President Donald Trump is set to speak Tuesday night about his proposed border wall. He's said in recent comments that he's prepared to wait months or even years to reopen the government.

That's triggered alarm for furloughed workers, especially in places like Aliceville.

Corrections officer Angie Acklin went through the previous shutdown in 2013, but says this one feels different because she sees no end in sight.

"For someone to say that it could go on for months or years, we don't have months or years," she said. "Our creditors are not going to give us an IOU. I talked to one this morning and was like, 'Hey, can we work this out?' And they basically said, 'I'll see you in court.'"

She added that she's frustrated with lawmakers leaving her without a paycheck this week and blames both sides for the shutdown.

"Money unifies everyone -- it's not about red or blue it's about green," Acklin said. "If someone asks 'are you for or against the wall?' I say 'I am for getting paid and I'm against not getting paid.'"

This year the town was set to break ground on a 40-unit housing rental project intended to entice prison employees to live in Aliceville and spend their salaries in town. But that too is stalled with the shutdown.

According to the president of the chamber of commerce, Edgar Pruitt, the government closure has held up the USDA rural housing grant he needs in order to break ground.

"If I can't get that document by ... mid-February, my project won't happen this year," Pruitt said. "Businesses who were depending on that housing will have no choice but to move on. They can't wait."

Windham, Bryant and Acklin say they resent being used as "pawns" and repeatedly urged lawmakers to do their jobs.

"Even though we're not getting paid right now, we took an oath and we have self-integrity and obligation. So therefore, we're choosing to go to work anyway. To do the job that we swore an oath to do and that's what we expect of everyone involved. They swore an oath as well and we expect them to hold up their end of the bargain," said Bryant, adding, "They're elected officials and they need to do the job that they were elected to do."

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