Fed­eral work­ers get $0 pay stubs

Tri-City Herald - - Depth - BY BRADY MCCOMBS AND JULIET LINDERMAN

Fed­eral em­ploy­ees re­ceived pay stubs with noth­ing but ze­ros on them Fri­day as the ef­fects of the gov­ern­ment shut­down hit home, deep­en­ing anx­i­eties about mort­gage pay­ments and un­paid bills.

All told, an es­ti­mated

800,000 gov­ern­ment work­ers missed their pay­checks for the first time since the shut­down be­gan.

Em­ploy­ees posted pic­tures of the pay state­ments on Twit­ter and vented their frus­tra­tion as the stand­off over Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­mand for $5.7 bil­lion for a bor­der wall en­tered its

21st day. This week­end, it will be­come the long­est shut­down in U.S. his­tory.

The typ­i­cal fed­eral em­ployee makes $37 an hour, which works out to $1,480 a week, ac­cord­ing to La­bor Depart­ment data. That’s nearly $1.2 bil­lion in lost pay each week, when mul­ti­plied by

800,000 fed­eral work­ers. Economists at S&P Global said the shut­down has cost the U.S. econ­omy $3.6 bil­lion so far.

“I saw the ze­ros in my pay stub to­day, and it’s a com­bi­na­tion of re­al­ity set­ting in and just sad­ness,” air traf­fic con­troller Josh Maria told The Asso- ciated Press af­ter tweet­ing a screen­shot of his paystub. “We’re Amer­ica. We can do bet­ter than this.”

The missed pay­checks were just one sign of the mount­ing toll the shut­down is tak­ing on Amer­i­cans’ daily lives. The Mi­ami air­port is clos­ing a ter­mi­nal this week­end be­cause se­cu­rity screen­ers have been call­ing in sick at twice the nor­mal rate. Home­buy­ers are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing de­lays in get­ting their loans.

Roughly 420,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees were deemed es­sen­tial and are work­ing un­paid. An ad­di­tional 380,000 are stay­ing home with­out pay. Fur­loughed fed­eral work­ers have been given back pay in pre­vi­ous shut­downs. Congress on Fri­day sent a bill to pro­vide retroac­tive pay af­ter this shut­down ends to Trump for his sig­na­ture.

Work­ers are turn­ing to Uber, Lyft and other side gigs to pick up some money in the mean­time.

Ellen Jack­son, a Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cer based in Las Ve­gas, is driv­ing full time for a ride-share com­pany to get by. The 59year-old is plan­ning to re­tire in April.

“I don’t want to bor­row any money,” said Jack­son, an Air Force vet­eran who said she makes about $38,000 a year as a TSA of­fi­cer. “I don’t want to get into a deeper hole.”

Fel­low Las Ve­gas-based TSA agent Julia Peters ap­plied for food stamps on Thurs­day and was ap­proved. She said five of the eight other ap­pli­cants at the ben­e­fits of­fice were also TSA work­ers.

In Falls Church, Vir­ginia, out­side Wash­ing­ton, a school dis­trict held a hir­ing fair for fur­loughed fed­eral em­ploy­ees in­ter­ested in work­ing as sub­sti­tute teach­ers.

Gerri French, who works for the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s Food In­spec­tion Ser­vice and has been fur­loughed along with her hus­band, liked the sound of sub­sti­tute teach­ing.

“I think it’s a re­ally great school sys­tem, and this would be a great op­por­tu­nity,” French said.

Chris Ge­orge, 48, of Hemet, Cal­i­for­nia, has picked up some work as a handy­man, turned to a crowd­fund­ing site to raise some cash and started driv­ing at Lyft af­ter be­ing fur­loughed from his job as a forestry tech­ni­cian su­per­vi­sor for the U.S. For­est Ser­vice.

But the side gigs aren’t mak­ing much dif­fer­ence, and he has been try­ing to work with his mort­gage com­pany to avoid miss­ing a pay­ment.

“Here we are, Day 21, and all three par­ties can- not even ne­go­ti­ate like adults,” he said, de­scrib­ing gov­ern­ment work­ers like him as “be­ing pawns for an agenda of a wall. You’re not go­ing to put a wall across the Rio Grande, I’m sorry.”

Many work­ers live pay­check to pay­check, de­spite the strong econ­omy and the ul­tra-low un­em­ploy­ment rate. A Fed­eral Re­serve sur­vey in May found that 40 per­cent of Amer­i­cans would have to bor­row or sell some­thing to make a $400 emer­gency pay­ment.

Gov­ern­ment work­ers are scal­ing back spend­ing, can­cel­ing trips, ap­ply­ing for un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits and tak­ing out loans to stay afloat.

Maria, based in Wash­ing­ton, was al­ready in a fi­nan­cially pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion be­cause of two cross-coun­try moves in

2018 and the birth of a pre­ma­ture son. The shut­down has made mat­ters much worse.

“I’m just not pay­ing cer­tain bills. Car pay­ments are be­ing de­layed, which is go­ing to put a hit on the credit,” he said. “Credit card pay­ments are be­ing de­layed.”

Maria took out a per­sonal loan last week just in case. Now he is pulling his

4-year-old daugh­ter out of day care and telling his

7-year-old son he can­not sign up for ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties.

Most of the gov­ern­ment work­ers re­ceived their last pay­check two weeks ago. Around the coun­try, some work­ers are re­ly­ing on dona­tions, in­clud­ing launch­ing GoFundMe cam­paigns. Food pantries have opened up in sev­eral lo­ca­tions.

DAVID GOLD­MAN AP

Jack Lyons, a con­trac­tor work­ing on mas­sive rocket test stands for NASA, is spend­ing the fur­lough on his side busi­ness mak­ing props for march­ing bands in Madi­son, Ala. “They’re try­ing to use peo­ple as bar­gain­ing chips, and it just isn’t right,” Lyons said. Un­like civil ser­vice work­ers who ex­pect to even­tu­ally get back pay, Lyons doesn’t know if he’ll ever see a dol­lar from the shut­down pe­riod.

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