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Shutdown stories: Federal workers say no relief in sight

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As the federal government shutdown grinds on, federal employees have little confidence things will return to normal soon.

“It’s the start of the fifth week of the government shutdown, which is really just ridiculous,” said Timothy Nicholson, an economist with the EPA. “I don’t see an end in sight to this right now, and I don’t think there will be unless something major happens like a strike among the essential employees who are working without pay.”

The current shutdown is the longest in the nation’s history. Approximately 800,000 federal workers are being affected, with about half of that number furloughed and half forced to work without pay. Federal employees have already missed one paycheck and are set to miss another later this week.

President Trump has refused to agree to a stopgap spending deal to keep government open that doesn’t provide billions for construction of a border wall. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, have declined to join with Democrats to pass a veto-overriding funding bill.

Freda McDonald, the executive vice president of the union that represents FEMA employees, said she was concerned about missed prep work, which could hinder the agency’s ability to respond to disasters. She is not confident about a resolution in the near future.

“I have no hope for the shutdown to end,” said McDonald. “I think we’re looking at March, and in the last week my hopes have become more and more dashed.”

Furloughed workers wait in line to receive food and supplies from World Central Kitchen, the not-for-profit organization started by Chef Jose Andres in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. The organization devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters, has set up a distribution center just blocks from the U.S. Capitol building to assist those affected by the government shutdown. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Furloughed workers wait in line Tuesday to receive food and supplies from World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit organization started by chef Jose Andres in Washington. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

The shutdown hasn’t been bad for all furloughed employees: Sisters Nikki Howard, who works at the Food and Drug Administration, and Jaqi Wright, an employee at the Justice Department, have found success with their new business, Furlough Cheesecakes. The pair have gained some fame with the company, appearing on Ellen. The sisters have started bringing in other furloughed workers to help bake, paying them a stipend and providing gas cards.

The effects of the shutdown are far-reaching: Some residents of government housing may lose their homes and 38 million people on food stamps could be affected if the government doesn’t reopen. Areas with a number of government employees such as Huntsville, Ala., and Native American reservations where many of the services are federally funded been particularly hard hit. Food banks nationwide are asking for donations as unpaid workers turn to them. Ten percent of TSA employees are calling in sick to work other jobs as the agency acknowledges "many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations.”

“The city of D.C. is slowing down,” said Nicholson. “Everyone I’ve spoken to has complained that business is sluggish. When the largest employers in an area stop paying their employees there are ripple effects. The shutdown is certainly damaging the economy, and we’ll see that in the next few months.”

“The White House needs to stop this madness,” added Nicholson. “I don’t think the White House understands that that they’re playing with fire.”

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