'We're Barely Getting By': Federal Workers Get $0 Pay Stubs as Shutdown Drags on - NBC Chicago
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'We're Barely Getting By': Federal Workers Get $0 Pay Stubs as Shutdown Drags on

Many workers live paycheck to paycheck, despite the strong economy and the ultra-low unemployment rate, and would struggle if their wages or salaries were interrupted

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Government Workers in Boston Protest Ongoing Shutdown

    Federal workers in Boston flocked to Post Office Square on Friday to protest the ongoing government shutdown.

    (Published Friday, Jan. 11, 2019)

    What to Know

    • Most of the government workers received their last paycheck two weeks ago, and Friday will be the first payday with no money

    • Roughly 420,000 federal employees were deemed essential and are working unpaid; an additional 380,000 are staying home without pay

    • While furloughed federal workers have been given back pay in previous shutdowns, it's not guaranteed that will happen this time

    Federal employees received pay stubs with nothing but zeros on them Friday as the effects of the government shutdown hit home, deepening anxieties about mortgage payments and unpaid bills.

    All told, an estimated 800,000 government workers missed their paychecks for the first time since the shutdown began.

    Employees posted pictures of the pay stubs on Twitter and vented their frustration as the standoff over President Donald Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall entered its 21st day. This weekend, it will become the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

    "I saw the zeros in my pay stub today, and it's a combination of reality setting in and just sadness," air traffic controller Josh Maria told The Associated Press after tweeting a screenshot of his paystub. "We're America. We can do better than this."

    The missed paychecks were just one sign of the mounting toll the shutdown is taking on Americans' daily lives. The Miami airport is closing a terminal this weekend because security screeners have been calling in sick at twice the normal rate. Homebuyers are experiencing delays in getting their loans.

    Roughly 420,000 federal employees were deemed essential and are working unpaid. An additional 380,000 are staying home without pay. Furloughed federal workers have been given back pay in previous shutdowns, and Congress passed a bill on Friday to provide it when the shutdown ends. It was headed to Trump's desk, and he is expected to sign it.

    But government contractors, who have been placed indefinitely on unpaid leave, don't get compensated for lost hours.

    Workers are turning to Uber, Lyft and other side gigs to pick up some money in the meantime. In Falls Church, Virginia, outside Washington, a school district was holding a hiring fair for furloughed federal employees interested in working as substitute teachers.

    Chris George, 48, of Hemet, California, has picked up some work as a handyman, turned to a crowdfunding site to raise some cash and started driving at Lyft after being furloughed from his job as a forestry technician supervisor for the U.S. Forest Service.

    But the side gigs aren't making much difference, and he has been trying to work with his mortgage company to avoid missing a payment.

    "Here we are, Day 21, and all three parties cannot even negotiate like adults," he said, describing government workers like him as "being pawns for an agenda of a wall. You're not going to put a wall across the Rio Grande, I'm sorry."

    Economists at S&P Global said the shutdown has cost the U.S. economy $3.6 billion so far.

    The typical federal employee makes $37 an hour, which translates into $1,480 a week, according to Labor Department data. That's nearly $1.2 billion in lost pay each week, when multiplied by 800,000 federal workers.

    Many workers live paycheck to paycheck, despite the strong economy and the ultra-low unemployment rate. A Federal Reserve survey in May found that 40 percent of Americans would have to borrow or sell something to make a $400 emergency payment.

    Government workers are scaling back spending, canceling trips, applying for unemployment benefits and taking out loans to stay afloat.

    Maria, based in Washington, was already in a financially precarious situation because of two cross-country moves in 2018 and the birth of a premature son. The shutdown has made matters much worse.

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    "I just go to the gym and juggle. Just a way to escape everything," Barry Goldmeier said. He's one of thousands of government employees furloughed during the shutdown. News4's Shomari Stone spoke to a therapist about other ways furloughed workers can cope with the stress.

    (Published Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019)

    "I'm just not paying certain bills. Car payments are being delayed, which is going to put a hit on the credit," he said. "Credit card payments are being delayed."

    Maria took out a personal loan last week just in case. Now he is pulling his 4-year-old daughter out of day care and telling his 7-year-old son he cannot sign up for extracurricular activities.

    Tiauna Guerra, one of 3,750 furloughed IRS workers in Ogden, Utah, said employers don't want to hire her when she explains her situation because they don't want to lose her in a few weeks.

    In the meantime, she is taking out a loan to make her car payment, and she and her husband are delaying plans to move out of her parents' house until the shutdown ends.

    "We're barely getting by," said Guerra, a mother of two small children. "We are not able to pay a lot of our bills. We're having a hard time trying to buy gas, food."

    Most of the government workers received their last paycheck two weeks ago. Around the country, some workers are relying on donations, including launching GoFundMe campaigns. Food pantries have opened up in several locations.

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    In Massachusetts, a private group has stepped up to ensure that those working at local Coast Guard stations have food and clothing. Don Cox, president of the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, said the nonprofit group has opened up centers at Coast Guard stations in Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.

    The group is helping feed 500 to 600 families a day during the shutdown, about double the typical demand, Cox said.

    "We've been doing this for 10 years. This is my fourth shutdown," Cox said. "I wish the senators and the congressmen weren't taking their paychecks. I'd feel a lot better then."

    Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado said she would not take her paycheck as long as federal workers were unpaid. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, another Colorado Democrat, said his staff would offer free breakfasts and lunches to unpaid federal workers at his district office in suburban Denver starting Friday.

    ___

    Associated Press writers Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, Steve LeBlanc in Boston, Matthew Barakat Falls Church, Virginia, Chris Rugaber in Washington, and Dan Elliott in Denver contributed to this report.

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    (Published Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019)