Federal Workers Fret, Tighten Belts as Shutdown Hits Week 3: ‘Live Paycheck to Paycheck’

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) leads a Jan. 7 roundtable discussion in Largo with federal employees affected by the government shutdown. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) leads a Jan. 7 roundtable discussion in Largo with federal employees affected by the government shutdown. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

By William J. Ford

Dozen of federal employees in the region vented Monday during a roundtable discussion in Largo, Maryland, about the ongoing government shutdown and its effect on them and their colleagues.

As an estimated 800,000 people are furloughed or forced to work without pay during the shutdown — now in its third week — the federal employees at Monday’s event gave their own gripping testimonies.

Tyra McClelland of Charles County said she had to apply for free and reduced school lunch so her 13-year-old daughter could eat.

Tryshanda Moton said her purchase of a new home in Prince George’s County was in the final stages but is now in jeopardy, on top of her having to continue renting her Beltsville apartment while the sale is in limbo.

“People are resilient and we usually recover from these things kind of hardships, but this seems like it’s an imposed hardship [and] unnecessary,” said Moton, 45, an aerospace engineer at Goodard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt who moved the area eight years ago from Huntsville, Alabama. “It’s different from a recession … or a massive layoff, but when it’s imposed for no legitimate reason, it’s really difficult to accept that this is just going to be OK, especially when there’s so much uncertainty and when it’s going to be over.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) organized the event, held one day before the Senate reconvenes Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

President Donald Trump, who has reached an impasse with congressional Democrats in his fight for increased border security, is pushing spending plans which include nearly $6 billion to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A proposed 2,000-mile structure became one of Trump’s top priorities during his presidential campaign. He announced Monday on Twitter he will give a presidential address about the situation this week.

“I am pleased to inform you that I will Address the Nation on the Humanitarian and National Security crisis on our Southern Border,” he said. “Tuesday night at 9:00 P.M. Eastern.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump plans to travel to the southern border Thursday “to meet with those on the frontlines of the national security and humanitarian crisis.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has said no vote will come on the floor until Democrats and Trump come to an agreement.

Van Hollen, who represents thousands of federal workers who reside in Maryland, said the first order of business when the Senate reconvenes should be a vote to reopen the government, which has been partially shuttered since Dec. 22. With Democrats now in control of the House, it passed legislation Thursday to reopen the government, but the bills didn’t include money for Trump’s border wall.

“The Senate just needs to pass the legislation,” Van Hollen said. “The Senate Republicans should not be ducking their responsibilities in this.”

Van Hollen also chided Trump for deciding “to hold a temper tantrum and shut the government down.”

Otis Johnson, a treasurer with the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1831 that represent workers at the National Gallery of Art in northwest D.C., said many union members “live paycheck to paycheck” and about 90 percent of the employees at the gallery are veterans, a group Trump often praises.

“Open the government back up so these vets can get back to work,” he said.

Some federal workers such as McClelland must report to work as essential employees. She’s a probation officer at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia.

Because of the shutdown, McClelland said her daughter wants to help financially by making clothes or shoveling snow.

“I’m proud of her for sticking by me and sticking through this,” she said. “This entrepreneurial spirit that she has now despite this is a blessing, but I do want her to be able to just be 13. I don’t want her to go to school and worry about, ‘Is today going to be another furlough day?’ She shouldn’t have to go to school worrying about that.”

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer

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