US federal employees struggle to cope with government shutdown

Global Business

Help for the roughly 800,000 U.S. federal workers who are not being paid is coming from many parts of the communities where they live. Banks, restaurants, food banks and others are extending a hand.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports from the U.S. state of Colorado.

They’re the front line of defense at U.S. airports. The Transportation Security Administration said its screeners checked 1.89 million passengers across America on Monday alone, without collecting a single cent for their work.

“Every single person that is down there… checking these bags is working without a salary because of what’s happened in Washington,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO).

Whether on the job, like these employees who are deemed “essential,” or on furlough, the government shutdown is starting to hit home with some 800,000 federal workers who’ve missed one paycheck already.

“It’s pretty stressful,” said Sherrie Kinard, an employee with the Environmental Protection Agency. “We’re trying to figure out how to make mortgage, how we’re going to meet car payments.”

“Yeah, I mean you have to sit down and have conversations you don’t want to have with your wife and kids and say, hey, we’re going to have to prioritize some expenditures here,” said Josh Waggener, an air traffic controller. “And we need to make sure the bills are paid.”

“Right now they’re getting hurt and we’ve got to do something about that,” said U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO).

While some U.S. Congress members work to get the government reopened, offers to help ease the workers’ money crunch are coming in. Banker Keith Cowling said his Credit Union of Denver, started by federal employees back in 1931, is extending workers loans with zero percent interest, deferred payments on existing loans and no-penalty withdrawals from Certificates of Deposit.

“Even though we’ve grown and expanded over the years, the federal employee base is very important to us,” Cowling said.

Various restaurants are offering free meals, some workers are getting help with mortgage and utility payments. The Food Bank of the Rockies’ recent mobile pantry drew mostly first-time visitors who are affected by the shutdown. Students at the Denver School of Science and Technology collected food for workers.

“This morning during home room we wrote letters to thank them for working and being determined and persevering,” said one sixth-grader.

And Kinard’s neighbor…

“She and a bunch of her friends have taken up a collection for us to make sure that we have King Soopers gift cards and stuff to buy groceries for the kids,” she said. “So that was really moving. I didn’t expect that.”

And yet that help will only go so far. Short-term interest-free loans eventually have to be paid back. Without paychecks, that adds another level of stress.

“I mean people can only give stuff away for free for so long,” said Waggener. He’s grateful for the help that’s been offered but worries that the financial implications of a long shutdown could make that help fairly insignificant in the end.