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Federal Employees Brace for Another Round of Government Shutdowns

by Ryan Lee
7 comments
Government Shutdown

John Hubert, an airport security officer based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, remembers assisting his Transportation Security Administration (TSA) colleagues in obtaining essential items from food banks during the previous government shutdown. By the closure’s 35th day, he found himself in the same predicament, in need of external aid.

Similarly, Steve Reaves, who serves as a union leader for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employees, has navigated through three separate government shutdowns. During the most recent one, spanning 2018-2019, he was forced to withdraw funds from his retirement account prematurely to sustain his financial obligations.

Jessica LaPointe, an employee at the Social Security Administration in Madison, Wisconsin, had to resort to financial assistance from friends and family during the 16-day shutdown in October 2013. In light of a potential forthcoming shutdown, she has already deferred a family vacation to Disney World.

Across the nation, federal employees, still carrying the weight of memories from past shutdowns, are apprehensively preparing for another possible extended halt in government operations. This situation challenges not only their financial resilience but also their dedication to public service.

“Every year, it feels like we’re poised on the edge of a fiscal precipice. It’s untenable,” stated Hubert, 42, a 21-year veteran at the TSA. “We shouldn’t be reduced to political pawns in legislative negotiations.”

As the Saturday deadline for renewed federal spending approaches — a deal that seems increasingly elusive — employees experienced in navigating the Washington deadlock are growing more concerned.

Hubert, who also serves as a representative in the TSA workers’ union within the American Federation of Government Employees, overseeing 1,400 local members, is making preparations for what now appears to be the unavoidable: another extended period of unpaid work.

“Like all Americans, we are obligated to meet our financial commitments, irrespective of congressional actions,” Hubert pointed out. “For those with families, especially single parents, a protracted shutdown could have a devastating impact.”

The White House, along with congressional Democrats and some Republicans, has issued warnings that a shutdown could severely disrupt the lives of citizens dependent on government services, cease pay for federal employees, and impair the United States’ global reputation.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack underscored the human cost during a recent White House briefing, estimating that a staggering 50,000 employees at the USDA alone would be furloughed, consequently affecting local economies due to decreased spending.

Johnny J. Jones, secretary-treasurer of the TSA workers’ unit within the AFGE, indicated that even a short-term disruption in pay constitutes a major setback for government workers living paycheck to paycheck.

“Rent and child support won’t wait for the government to resume its operations,” Jones remarked. “The pressing question for all of us is the duration of the impending shutdown.”

LaPointe, who is a mother of four and also a union leader representing 30,000 Social Security workers via the AFGE, described the prospect of another shutdown as “personally disastrous.”

Amid the 2013 event, she had to “urgently gather financial resources to sustain herself,” LaPointe said. “It was a period of acute stress.” She secured loans from friends and family, confident that the government would ultimately reimburse her.

In addition to preparing for a shutdown, the Social Security Administration and LaPointe’s labor union are in negotiations over possible long-term furloughs, contemplating the fate of 4,700 employees should there be an 8% budget cut, as currently proposed by Republicans.

LaPointe stated that the agency has already seen a decline of 10,000 employees since 2010, a period that coincides with the retirement of the baby boomer generation. According to a Partnership for Public Service survey, the Social Security Administration is currently ranked last among the “Best Places to Work” in the federal sector.

“The value of federal employment is seriously questioned during these shutdowns,” said LaPointe.

Reaves, president of the FEMA union, recalls tapping into his Thrift Savings Plan, a retirement scheme for federal employees, to navigate the financial straits of the 2018-2019 shutdown, resulting in extra taxes and penalties.

“The ensuing financial burden has repercussions for years to come,” he noted. “We end up paying more just to regain lost ground.”

Reaves suggested a potential solution to the recurring issue of government shutdowns could be halting congressional salaries during these periods.

“If lawmakers’ salaries were also suspended,” he posited, “we might see a different attitude toward the shutdowns.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about government shutdown

What is the main topic of the article?

The main topic of the article is the apprehension and preparation of federal employees across various agencies in the United States as they face the possibility of another government shutdown.

Who are the primary individuals mentioned in the article?

The primary individuals mentioned are John Hubert, an airport security officer; Steve Reaves, a union leader for FEMA workers; and Jessica LaPointe, an employee of the Social Security Administration.

What financial hardships have federal employees faced during past government shutdowns?

During past shutdowns, federal employees have faced multiple financial hardships, including working without pay, withdrawing funds from retirement accounts, and relying on financial aid from friends and family. Some have also had to resort to food banks for essentials.

What are the broader implications of a government shutdown mentioned in the article?

The broader implications include not just the immediate financial hardship on federal workers, but also the ripple effects on local economies and on citizens who rely on government services. Additionally, the shutdown affects America’s global standing.

What solutions or suggestions are proposed in the article for preventing future government shutdowns?

Steve Reaves, the FEMA union president, proposes that lawmakers’ salaries should also be suspended during a shutdown, arguing that this would likely change their attitudes towards allowing shutdowns to occur.

What are the emotional impacts of government shutdowns as expressed by federal employees in the article?

Federal employees express feelings of being used as bargaining chips in legislative negotiations, along with increasing skepticism about the value of federal employment. The recurring nature of shutdowns undermines their commitment to public service.

How are federal workers preparing for the possibility of another shutdown?

Federal workers are making financial preparations, such as postponing vacations and gathering financial resources, to brace themselves for the financial hardships that may come with another government shutdown. Union leaders are also in discussions with agency leadership about terms for potential longer-term furloughs.

What government sectors are mentioned as being particularly affected by a potential government shutdown?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Social Security Administration are specifically mentioned as sectors that would be particularly affected by a government shutdown.

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7 comments

Alexa Smith September 26, 2023 - 4:48 pm

It’s shocking to hear what these employees have to go through during shutdowns. Pulling money out of retirement just to make ends meet is no joke.

Reply
Emily Davis September 27, 2023 - 1:43 am

Reading this makes me so frustrated. like, can’t they see the ripple effect this has not only on the federal employees but also the community?

Reply
Mike Thompson September 27, 2023 - 3:34 am

It’s about time someone talked about this issue. These shutdowns have real consequences on people’s lives. Great article!

Reply
John Williams September 27, 2023 - 7:47 am

Another shutdown? really? What are our lawmakers even doing? Steve Reaves has a point – maybe they should lose their paychecks too. Then we’ll see some changes.

Reply
Brian Carter September 27, 2023 - 11:30 am

The emotional toll on these people is just too much. I can’t even imagine working under such uncertainty. Props to them for sticking it out.

Reply
Sarah Johnson September 27, 2023 - 1:00 pm

Man, this is just terrible. how can the government keep doing this to its own employees? If they can’t even pay their workers, what are we all doing here?

Reply
Tina Roberts September 27, 2023 - 1:56 pm

I had no idea it was this bad. Makes me rethink complaining about my own job. These folks are really in a bind.

Reply

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