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US shutdown: Unpaid workers forced to take out loans and sign up for benefits

No end in sight as federal workers prepare for fourth week of US government shutdown.

Image: UPI/PA Images

US FEDERAL WORKERS have had to take out loans, sign on for unemployment benefits, and cut back on day-to-day spending, while some are considering taking up second jobs, as the partial government shutdown today becomes the longest in US history.

Some 800,000 federal workers have today missed their first pay cheque since the shutdown began, and many are looking for alternative ways to stay afloat until an agreement is reached.  

“They say this is a manufactured crisis. But it’s not. What is manufactured is the use of the word manufactured,” said US President Trump. 

In previous shutdowns, furloughed – on leave of absence — federal employees have been back-paid, but government contractors don’t get compensated for hours lost. The Senate has passed a bill to back-pay workers, but the House still needs to vote on it.  

A government shutdown happens when Congress cannot agree on a national budget before its deadline. Both houses — the Senate and the House of Representatives — have to approve federal spending plans for different government departments. 

When they can’t, those departments don’t get funded. This shutdown is partial, as only some departments didn’t get funding, including Agriculture, Homeland Security, State, Transportation, Interior and Justice. 

Some National Park facilities, museums, and most of Nasa has also been affected.

About 420,000 federal workers, whose work is considered essential — the FBI, TSA, and other federal law enforcement officers — are working without pay, while others have been sent home.

How workers are coping

Rachael Weatherly, a senior adviser for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is considering trying to get a job at a grocery store.

In the meantime, she’s signed-on for unemployment benefit. Like many workers, she doesn’t have the savings to buffer her through the shutdown. 

US President Donald Trump Source: Shutterstock/mark reinstein

Her child-care provider and mortgage company have agreed to delay payments, but she’s worried the late payments will have a negative impact on her credit score. 

The US Coastguard were advised to supplement their income through baby-sitting, dog-walking, mystery-shopping, and selling off larger items, though the tips have since been taken down, according to reporting by CNN and the Washington Post. 

Huntsville, Alabama, is home to about 70 federal agencies, and more than half of its economy is tied to government spending.

The shutdown has had a profound knock-on effect locally, with business down by more than a third in three local restaurants. 

“It’s a very scary feeling to know that your payday is coming and nothing is coming,” said Krystle Kirkpatrick, and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) worker from Utah.

I don’t think the administration and the houses of Congress understand the repercussions of not having a pay cheque.

Trump has repeated claims that “many furloughed federal workers “agree 100 %” with his demands.

No end in sight

Trump had threatened to declare a national emergency, seeking agreement from Democrats for funding for the Mexican-US border wall, before he signs agreements to fund shut-down departments. 

A declaration would allow him to side-step Congress, and divert military spending towards constructing the wall instead, but that would likely be challenged in court. 

Trump reiterated that he has an “absolute right to declare a national emergency”, in an interview with Fox News on Thursday evening. 

Last Friday, Trump said that the standoff could last “months or even years”. 

© AFP 2019, with reporting from AP and Zuzia Whelan

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