N.M. federal workers feel pain of shutdown
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.”