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Lesser known consequences of the federal shutdown | Guest View

 

January 24, 2019

Brian Potter

We’ve reached day 34 of the federal shutdown.

I won’t go into the numbers everyone else is listing; you may know them, or not. I want to write about a couple of different aspects of the shutdown people don’t seem to know about. I’m a furloughed federal employee, not allowed to go to work or do anything related to my work – it might be an ethical conflict, once I do go back.

When I talk to people, there are two points that seem to surprise almost everyone: the impact on those required to work, without pay, and the impact on federal contractors.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees are getting a lot of press – they’re highly visible, and they’re some of the lowest paid federal employees.

They and many others who work for the Department of Homeland Security, as well as some at the Department of Agriculture, the National Weather Service, and other unfunded departments, are required to report to work even though they are not getting paid.

One consequence of this, an obvious one, is they do not have time to take another job and make money. Their time is spoken for.

The other consequence is, in most states, they cannot collect unemployment. They are, for these two reasons alone, much worse off than those of us who are just told to stay home – we can potentially take other work, or collect unemployment.

(Though when we get paid eventually, we do have to repay any unemployment – it’s more like a zero-interest loan.)

Think about this if you file your taxes early. If you get your refund, the people working on it are not getting paid, can’t collect unemployment, and can’t take side jobs. They have every reason to be disgruntled, frustrated and anxious.

Federal contractors have a different set of challenges. Many of their contracts require day-to-day oversight or direction from federal employees. Or they may work in a federal office.

Those federal employees are not available, and those offices are under lockdown. So the contractors cannot report or do their work. Whether a contractor is big or small, their employees are individuals with lives, debts, and responsibilities.

They cannot work, and so they do not get paid. Some contractors can assign employees to different projects; others cannot. And unlike federal employees, there has been no bill passed that says they will get any compensation.

When the furlough and shutdown end, will the contractors still be there? I know one federal building has a contract restaurant in it. The owner had to let go all of their employees two weeks ago. The owner may have gone under by now – it was a small, locally owned business in its town.

Unfortunately for the federal government and everyone who relies on something it does – which is almost everyone in the country, whether they realize it, or not – we are in a job-seekers market right now.

Many of the TSA, NOAA, USDA, and contract employees have more options than they did in the 2013 shutdown. They can leave, though many have a strong sense of responsibility and feel loyal to their jobs.

After this kind of treatment, are others going to be looking to work for the government?

Brian Potter is a federal employee of 25 years who lives in Edmonds and works in Seattle. He is a commissioner on the Edmonds Diversity Commission. The comments and viewpoints he expresses here are his own.

 

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