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SILVER SPRING — Chris, a Frederick resident and an employee at the Federal Aviation Administration, is draining money away from his child’s college’s fund.
During the partial federal government shutdown, Chris has had to continue to work with the FAA helping planes land safely without receiving his paycheck. While he does not live paycheck-to-paycheck, Chris has three kids, two in college and one in high school and a mortgage, meaning that much of his saving goes toward funding his children’s education.
Thanks to a political impasse in Washington over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Chris’ finances, and the lives of 800,000 federal workers across the United States, have been thrown into flux.
“How am I going to pay for their schools? You know, it just brings a whole bunch of questions to your life — how you keep going,” Chris said,
While after previous shutdowns, federal workers have received their back pay, this shutdown, now the longest in American history, has shown little signs of ending. President Donald J. Trump, after a meeting with top Congressional Democrats Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said the shutdown could last for months even years.
While politicians debate $5 billion in funding for the border wall, whether the wall can be made of steel beams or whether the wall is really a metaphor for technology that border officials can use to monitor the border, federal employees and contractors are left in limbo.
On Jan. 11, federal workers missed their first paycheck beginning the economic woes for many in the area.
For some, the reality is tough; it is a loss of savings and maybe an income. For other federal workers, they admitted the shutdown is not hurting them much financially, but rather an annoyance as many are passionate about their jobs and would just like to get back to work.
Since the government shutdown began on Dec. 22, about 420,00 federal employees have been furloughed, and 380,000 have been required to continue to work without pay. For weeks prior to the shutdown, Trump and Democratic leaders tried negating a compromise to avert it. However, Trump stuck to his promise to build a wall along the southern border, while Pelosi and Schumer continue to follow through on their pledge to block any funding for a Trump wall.
Paul Ruther, a furloughed federal employee who works at a Smithsonian museum, said that while he does have savings, he anticipates that by the end of the month the shutdown will hurt him financially.
“It sucks; it’s terrible. I really love my job,” he said.
To help alleviate some of the financial constraints from the shutdown, Montgomery County has set up an online portal to help federal government employees who are affected by the shutdown access County services.
Like WSSC, Pepco has waived late fees during the shutdown, and Washington Gas is offering more flexible payment options for people directly affected by the shutdown.
Other county agencies are also getting involved.
Montgomery County Public Schools held an employment open house for furloughed federal workers on Jan. 15, with another coming on Jan. 18, so that they can interview for open positions in the school system.
“We are committed to supporting our community members affected by the ongoing partial government shutdown,” said Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools Jack Smith.
“From our previously established Dine with Dignity meal program to our upcoming employment open houses, we hope to provide continued support and to be a valuable resource to the furloughed families in our county.”
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said the county government is not affected by the shutdown and added there is not a lot it can do to alleviate the financial strain on federal workers in the county.
“It is imperative that we do what we can to help the people affected by this failure of government,” Elrich said in a statement. “I applaud the State government, County Councilmembers, departments, partner agencies, businesses, utilities, nonprofits and community and elected leaders in neighboring jurisdictions, who are doing whatever they can to help alleviate the stress of this unacceptable situation.”
Last Wednesday, Democrats held a rally for federal workers at the Silver Spring Civic Center, attempting to organize pressure and support for their agenda to end the shutdown. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8) served as an informal MC for the invite that included Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).
“We’ve assembled here tonight — hundreds of people — to make a very simple point which is to open up the government of the United States of America — reopen the government,” Raskin said. “Stop this shameful shutdown of essential public services, stop the lockout of federal works, stop making people work for no pay, stop disrupting family life throughout Maryland, D.C. and Virginia and across the country.”
While the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has voted for resolutions to fund the government, the Senate has not done so. The Democrats plan to fund U.S. government for a year, with an exception for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the federal agency in charge of border security, which it plans to fund until early February — perhaps long enough to come to a compromise.