Almost two weeks into the shutdown, government employees and contractors are feeling the brunt of the political impasse in Washington.
After lawmakers failed to come to a deal to fund the government over a dispute with the President for $5 billion in funding for his proposed wall on the Mexican border, the federal government remains shut down, and Maryland — a state that’s home to roughly 135,000 federal workers — is feeling much of the impact from the government shutdown.
Since the government shutdown began on Dec. 22, 380,000 federal employees across the nation were furloughed, while an additional 420,000 are required to continue working without pay. For Maryland, and the D.C. Metropolitan Region as a whole, which are highly dependent on the federal government as an employer, many key agencies have partially shut down, such as the Food and Drug Administration, which has furloughed non-essential employees.
While two key federal employers in the area, National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Military, will continue to work mostly as normal during the shutdown, many government contractor and subcontractors could be harshly affected.
“If I’m not paid it’s going to be very hard for me to live my life,” said Helen Avalos, who works for a government contractor. “Currently, I live paycheck to paycheck.”
Avalos is a housekeeper with Ace Janitorial Services, a company that contracts with the U.S. Military to maintain and clean Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. Avalos said while she is currently being paid normally, her manager told her if the shutdown continues her hours could be cut, like so many other staff contract workers at Walter Reed who have been sent home during the shutdown.
So many federal employees in the state have been sent home, or are having their paychecks withheld, that the state has seen a dramatic increase in the number of unemployment insurance claims. From Dec. 22 to Dec. 27, Maryland Labor Licensing and Regulation has received 169 applications for unemployment benefits just from federal employees in the state.
In addition, many workers at the Department of Commerce, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Park Service, Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation have been furloughed, while many employees of the FBI, DEA, Bureau of Prisons, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives and 88 percent of the employees at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will be required to work without pay.
On Monday, the American Federation of Government Employees, a union representing about 700,000 federal government workers, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, alleging it is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act for withholding paychecks from federal workers.
“It has affected many in a very negative way. More than half are being required to come to work without any pay,” said Jacqueline Simon, policy director for the AFGE.
The most-recent government shutdown is the third in a calendar year. Prior to the shutdown that began on Dec. 22, members of Congress had debated wall funding — the one issue that kept them from passing a continuing resolution to fund the government.
The wall along the Southern border was a key campaign promise for President Donald J. Trump, who vowed to keep the government closed if Congress did not provide $5 billion in funding for it. In response, Democrats promised to not vote for any resolution that provided funding for the wall, saying Trump’s proposed wall is immoral and ineffective. On Dec. 21, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to fund the government, with the wall funding that Trump requested. But the resolution was met with the expected opposition by Senate Democrats, whose votes were needed to pass the resolution.
“President Trump and Congressional Republicans have thrown the federal government into total disarray and put us on the brink of a shutdown to score political points. This is not leadership – it’s shameful,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in a statement. “As we work to resolves this crisis, we must ensure that federal employees – who have nothing to do with this – are held harmless.”
Now, Democrats are in control of the House, with new Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) proposing a new resolution that would provide funding for more security along the Southern border, but not a wall. Trump, in response, rejected the reported proposal out of hand, saying he will not sign a resolution that does not include funding for his proposed wall.
“The Democrats, much as I suspected, have allocated no money for a new Wall,” Trump tweeted. “So imaginative! The problem is, without a Wall there can be no real Border Security – and our Country must finally have a Strong and Secure Southern Border!”