Fur­loughed pro­test­ers in­sist, ‘Let me work’

Pay­day comes Fri­day, but pay­check doesn’t

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - John Bacon and Ma­rina Pitof­sky USA TO­DAY

“The pres­i­dent has a cav­a­lier at­ti­tude be­cause he has no idea what it’s like to rely on a reg­u­lar pay­check.”

Steve Lenkart Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Fed­eral Em­ploy­ees

Fed­eral work­ers and their sup­port­ers ral­lied for their jobs near the White House on Thursday as the par­tial govern­ment shut­down rolled through its third week with no end in sight.

Al­most half of the 800,000 civil­ian fed­eral em­ploy­ees are not work­ing, and even those who are won’t be paid un­til the stale­mate is set­tled. For most, the fur­lough be­comes real Fri­day when they miss their first pay­day.

Hun­dreds of pro­test­ers marched near the White House on a sunny but cold and windy day with signs say­ing, “Let me work for the peo­ple,” “We want to work” and “Trump: End the shut­down.”

Ma­hasin Mo­hamed, a se­cu­rity of­fi­cer for the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion for seven years, brought a sign that said, “Trump pay my bills or give back our jobs.” Lila John­son, a con­tracted cus­to­dian for the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture for 21 years, said her daugh­ter has helped her out fi­nan­cially.

“It’s a strug­gle,” John­son said. “It’s time for them to open the govern­ment back up, so peo­ple like me ... can go back to work.”

IRS em­ployee Ho­ra­tio Fenton came from Philadel­phia to at­tend the rally in Wash­ing­ton.

“I don’t know where the next pay­check is com­ing from,” Fenton said. “I have a mort­gage. I have reg­u­lar, ev­ery­day ex­penses.”

Fed­eral em­ploy­ees across the na­tion are feel­ing the pain. In tiny Ar­cata, Cal­i­for­nia, sin­gle mom Leisyka Lee said she has worked for the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment for 17 years.

“I live pay­check to pay­check,” she said. “I earn a liv­ing wage when I work. I love my job, and I just want to get back to work.”

In Madi­son, Wis­con­sin, Carl Hout­man has spent the past 21 years work­ing for the For­est Ser­vice. The chem­i­cal en­gi­neer said he is the pri­mary wage earner for his fam­ily of four, in­clud­ing two in col­lege.

“Guess what hap­pens this time of year: tu­ition bills,” he said, “prop­erty tax, Christ­mas credit cards. This is ab­so­lutely the worst time of year to miss a pay­check.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said he would be will­ing to keep the shut­down go­ing for a year or more if Democrats don’t yield to his de­mands for $5.7 bil­lion to­ward fund­ing a bor­der wall. Talks broke down Wednesday, and it was un­clear when they would restart.

Trump claimed that “most of the peo­ple not get­ting paid are Democrats.” He said fed­eral work­ers sup­port his plans for the wall and his de­ci­sion to force the shut­down.

“The pres­i­dent has a cav­a­lier at­ti­tude be­cause he has no idea what it’s like to rely on a reg­u­lar pay­check,” said Steve Lenkart, spokesman for the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Fed­eral Em­ploy­ees.

Some work­ers started GoFundMe cam­paigns, but the Of­fice of Govern­ment Ethics warned that stan­dard rules ap­ply. Such do­na­tions would prob­a­bly be con­sid­ered gifts, and rules for ac­cept­ing gifts are strin­gent.

The U.S. Coast Guard posted a tip sheet with a list of sug­ges­tions such as hold­ing garage sales, baby-sit­ting or tu­tor­ing to make ends meet. One last op­tion: declar­ing bank­ruptcy. The tip sheet was later re­moved from the agency’s web­site.

The fed­er­a­tion, which rep­re­sents more than 100,000 fed­eral work­ers, co-spon­sored Thursday’s rally. Fed­eral em­ploy­ees marched in other cities as well. In Edi­son, New Jersey, Ed­ward Guster marched in a crowd of about 300. The EPA sci­en­tist noted that work­ers have not pa­tron­ized shops and eater­ies. “Those lo­cal busi­nesses must be feel­ing that,” he said.

The work the em­ploy­ees do is also af­fected. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mis­sioner Scott Gottlieb said his agency cut back sig­nif­i­cantly on safety in­spec­tions of do­mes­tic food. Hout­man said he has re­search re­ports sit­ting idle on his desk.

He said his fi­nan­cial prob­lems re­main front and cen­ter. Neigh­bors brought food from their freezer to help his fam­ily out, he said.

“We are not that des­per­ate yet,” he said. “But we took the food.”

HAN­NAH GABER/USA TO­DAY

Fed­eral work­ers and sup­port­ers protest the fed­eral govern­ment shut­down in Wash­ing­ton on Thursday. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump says the fur­loughed work­force sup­ports his de­ter­mi­na­tion to hold out for fund­ing for a wall on the bor­der with Mex­ico.

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