The 800,000 faces of the government shutdown

They talk about cleaning out their savings, maxing out credit cards and dipping into retirement accounts to pay basic bills. There are desperate calls to banks and landlords to figure out work-around measures for looming mortgage and rent payments.

They’ve started side gigs; like the two women who are baking and selling cheesecakes to try and help make ends meet. They are preparing to tell college-aged children there might not be enough money to make the next tuition payment or to explain to younger children why they can no longer take gymnastics lessons.

This is the human face of the federal government shutdown many have forgotten as they are caught in the middle of a partisan fight over a border wall and immigration.

The stories of hardship faced by federal workers have poured in from around the country as a government shutdown wraps up a third week with no end in sight. It’s on track to be one of the longest ever, and President Donald Trump says he’s willing to keep it going indefinitely. Some of Maryland’s congressional delegation heard the cries from workers at a hearing in Silver Spring earlier this week. Lawmakers on Thursday marched to The White House in a rally with some of the workers who rightfully complained their livelihoods were being held hostage because of politics and ego.

As president Trump digs his heels in on the need for a $5 billion wall along part of the southern border, the human toll of the federal shutdown has thrown government employees into financial pandemonium and will only worsen for the 800,000 affected workers with each passing day. Because of the shutdown, 420,000 federal employees are still required to report to work but aren’t receiving any pay. More than 380,000 employees are not working or getting paid. Many federal contractors are in the same predicament. The impact really hit home today when workers missed their first paycheck.

While the pay range of the affected employees is vast, it is fair to say some of these workers live paycheck to paycheck and missing one could have devastating consequences. Think about the little noticed custodial staff who keep the bathrooms clean for low pay.

The callous disregard to federal workers by the president is in contradiction to the traditional role the federal government has historically played as a safe zone for American workers. The salaries may not have been as lucrative as a private sector job, but the trade-offs, such as good benefits and job stability, were worth it for many families. For many years, it was a rare place where people of color and other marginalized communities could go for a job and find protections against discrimination. Now no one knows when they may return to work.

The irony has been lost on President Trump, who has made little mention of the financial hardships those who keep the government running could be facing and has in fact tried to say such workers support the shutdown and are on his side. Does he really think workers support a shutdown he has claimed could go on for years? Who can afford that?

If the president doesn’t care about the workers, maybe he should think about the economic health of the country. People who don’t get paid can’t keep up on mortgages. With no paycheck people don’t go to shopping malls or eat at restaurants or even gas up their cars. The national capitol region, which includes parts of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, is home to 360,000 federal workers and could watch parts of its economy collapse if a solution doesn’t come soon. Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s office says about 26,000 Maryland jobs are affected by the shutdown, but that doesn’t count jobs in D.C. or Virginia held by Maryalnders, or an untold number of contract workers, many of whom make low wages to begin with. That’s why Gov. Larry Hogan, the president’s fellow Republican, called for an end to the shutdown this week.

The Democratic-majority House has passed legislation to reopen several agencies through the end of the year, but it still needs Senate support. As of now the chances of that seem slim. There are legislative efforts for swift back pay whenever the government reopens. But that doesn’t help workers right now.

Unfortunately, it may take yet more pain for federal workers and all those who depend on them to force lawmakers and the president to reach some kind of consensus.

President Trump has said he may declare immigration along the California border an emergency. But what about the emergency he has created for federal workers?

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