N.M. fed­eral work­ers feel pain of shut­down

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION & WORLD -

have to save for rent or food.”

Mar­tine was one of a hand­ful of fed­eral work­ers who spoke at a Satur­day round­table hosted by newly elected U.S. Rep. Deb Haa­land, a Demo­crat from Al­bu­querque, to dis­cuss the im­pact the now three-week shut­down has had on New Mex­i­cans.

Haa­land told a small crowd at Cen­tral New Mex­ico Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Al­bu­querque that New Mex­ico, with 6,000 fed­eral work­ers, is the sec­ond-most af­fected state in the na­tion.

“I know what it’s like to live pay­check to pay­check,” Haa­land said. “Sixty per­cent of Amer­i­cans have only $500 in the bank that they can use as a slush fund — which you know would never even pay one month of rent. So, it’s af­fect­ing us so dras­ti­cally.”

Haa­land heard tales of a wide­spread rip­ple ef­fect im­pact­ing not only fed­eral em­ploy­ees but also local busi­nesses and Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes.

In the Pue­blo of San Felipe, for ex­am­ple, tribal of­fi­cials said the shut­down has frozen funds for pro­grams. Tribal ad­min­is­tra­tor Pinu’u Stout said some homes on pue­blo lands can’t con­nect to the elec­tric grid be­cause ser­vice-line agree­ments have to go through shut­tered fed­eral agen­cies.

And, ad­min­is­tra­tor Daryl Can­de­laria said, help is hard to come by be­cause of fur­loughs in the U.S. Bureau of In­dian Af­fairs.

Jeff Er­way, pres­i­dent of La Cum­bre Brew­ing Co. in Al­bu­querque, said thou­sands of dol­lars’ worth of beer his busi­ness planned to ship out of state is wait­ing for fed­eral ap­proval. At least eight ap­pli­ca­tions are in limbo.

“No one in this room should feel bad for me,” Er­way said. “… Who you should feel bad for are some of the em­ploy­ees who are quite pos­si­bly un­der­em­ployed be­cause of the shut­down.”

De­liv­ery driv­ers, servers, dish­wash­ers and cooks are in­di­rectly af­fected, Er­way added, be­cause so many fed­eral em­ploy­ees have stopped eat­ing at restau­rants. He’s heard some busi­nesses are down by 20 per­cent to 25 per­cent of their cus­tomer base.

Among the tales of woe and frus­tra­tion, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and credit unions have of­fered a few so­lu­tions.

For­mer state Rep. Bill McCam­ley, the sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate of the New Mex­ico De­part­ment of Work­force So­lu­tions, told the au­di­ence that for 180 days, the state is al­low­ing fed­eral em­ploy­ees who are out of work to ap­ply for un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits — with­out the re­quire­ment that they look for em­ploy­ment be­cause they are, in fact, em­ployed.

Fed­eral work­ers who re­ceive back pay would have to re­pay the aid, McCam­ley said. “For fed­eral em­ploy­ees, what this ba­si­cally ends up be­ing is a no-in­ter­est loan to help you get through your time.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Nusenda and other credit unions said they are also of­fer­ing sup­port, such as noin­t­er­est loans and ad­vance pay­rolls, and said they would back Haa­land and other mem­bers of Con­gress in their push to end the shut­down.

“New Mex­ico’s econ­omy is still very frag­ile from the re­ces­sion, said Paul Stull, pres­i­dent of the Credit Union As­so­ci­a­tion of New Mex­ico. “We have not fully re­cov­ered … and this is an­other kick in the pants, if you will.”

Gov­ern­ment shut­downs, Stull said, “should be off the ta­ble. It is clearly a nu­clear op­tion that makes peo­ple suf­fer dra­mat­i­cally — and in New Mex­ico, that’s more than the av­er­age num­ber of peo­ple.”

Haa­land urged those in the au­di­ence to con­tact Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., and ask him to put shut­down-end­ing bills on the Se­nate floor.

“We’ll do what­ever we can,” Haa­land said. “I’ll just prom­ise you that.”

Af­ter Satur­day’s meet­ing, Mar­tine said she planned to file for un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits with the state De­part­ment of Work­force So­lu­tions un­der McCam­ley’s plan.

In the mean­time, she said, she has to sched­ule the brain surgery that may make her well, and she will keep hope that the shut­down ends.

Mar­tine is lucky, she said, be­cause she has fam­ily mem­bers who are will­ing to help her with ex­penses. They want her to get well.

“They’ve seen what’s hap­pened to me these last few months,” she said, “from be­ing a nor­mal per­son to not even be­ing able to hold a cup of cof­fee be­cause I don’t have feel­ing, or trip­ping and stum­bling around. … I have a re­ally great sup­port.”

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