March 25, 2019
Federal workers brace for longest government shutdown in U.S. history
WASHINGTON--Federal workers woke up to a harsh reality on Friday when they did not receive their expected paychecks for the first time as the partial government shutdown entered its 21st day.

An estimated 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or are working without pay, throwing everything from airport security to environmental protection to federal resources for low-income housing into jeopardy.

The last government shutdown to have lasted this long was the impasse that stretched from December 1995 to January 1996, when President Bill Clinton and the GOP-controlled Congress were at loggerheads. As of Friday afternoon, with the shutdown poised to become the longest in U.S. history, President Donald Trump and Congress appeared no closer to a deal to reopen the government.

Trump on Friday continued to lambaste Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for standing firm in their refusal to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

On Friday, the Democrat-controlled House passed two bills to provide relief to workers and reopen some essential federal agencies. One bill to reopen the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and other related agencies passed 240 to 179, with 10 Republicans voting with Democrats. The other bill, which guarantees back pay to federal workers, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 411 to 7. Seven Republicans voted against that measure.

Currently, some government agencies are relying on temporary funds to keep some operations going, but experts have warned that the situation could get grimmer if it drags on.

For many workers going without pay, it's already dire.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that the government shutdown has suspended federal cleanups at Superfund sites around the nation and forced the cancellation of public hearings. As a result, a mostly African-American community in Alabama, for instance, has been forced to cope with high levels of arsenic, lead and other contaminants in the soil around homes.

Low-income senior citizens in Jacksonville, Florida, have also been left to fend for themselves because the shutdown froze funds the Department of Housing and Urban Development used for low-income housing.

And more grim scenarios could happen if the shutdown continues to drag on, including 38 million low-income Americans losing access to food stamps, 2 million losing access to rental assistance and facing possible eviction and the federal court system almost screeching to a halt.

Miami airport to close terminal early as TSA screener absences rise

Miami International Airport will close an airport terminal early over the next few days, officials said on Friday, with more unpaid security officers absent from work as the partial government shutdown has dragged on.

The airport said that on Saturday, Sunday and Monday it will end flights at 1 p.m. from Concourse G and relocate them to either to Concourse F or Concourse H. Miami is the 14th busiest U.S. airport, handling 20 million passengers annually.

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) 51,000 officers miss a paycheck on Friday as the shutdown hits its 21st day. The screeners are among the lowest-paid federal employees. While they will be paid once the shutdown ends, many say they will struggle to pay bills in the meantime.

A TSA spokesman said the terminal closing early will not affect flights. United Airlines and some smaller international airlines use Concourse G. United did not immediately comment on whether any of its flights would be shifted as a result of the early closing.

TSA said on Friday it had an unscheduled absence rate of 5.1 percent Thursday compared to a 3.3 percent rate a year ago.

Nationwide, TSA screened 1.96 million passengers Thursday and 99.9 percent of passengers waited less than 30 min, the agency added.

Angry furloughed federal workers protest shutdown at the White House, around the country

Hundreds of furloughed government workers and contractors descended on the White House on Thursday to plead to be allowed to return to work.

Holding signs such as "Stop the war on workers" and "We want work, not walls," the protesters assembled in the bitter cold outside of AFL-CIO union headquarters before making their way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Smaller scale protests were held around the country, including in New York, Detroit, Dallas and Ogden, Utah, where the IRS is one of the area's largest employers.

"Please let us go back to work, we're hungry. We're running out of money and it's not about any party," said Trina Ford, who's worked for the IRS for 26 years, in Ogden. "I'm a committed employee. I commit to the government. I don't want to not be paid."

Private businesses step up for furloughed public workers

There's some good news for furloughed federal workers suffering under the government shutdown. Companies large and small are stepping up, offering to waive late fees on bills or postpone payments. Across the country, a swath of local restaurants has been giving free food to government workers.

"To those federal government employees impacted by the government shutdown: We’re here for you," said Nancy Clark, senior vice president of Verizon Wireless customer service, in a statement. She said the company would allow federal workers to set up plans to catch up on late payments on a future date.

Chase said it will automatically waive or refund overdraft and monthly service fees for checking and savings accounts. Other large national banks said they encouraged customers to call them and work things out.

1st Oklahoma Bank is going one step further for the federal workers who make up part of its 10,000-customer base. The bank accounts of those who this week are missing their first paycheck will be treated as if the money arrived, allowing them to make their house payments and buy groceries, Thomas Bennett, Jr., the bank’s chairman and co-CEO told NBC News.

Uber and Lyft are hiring federal employees as drivers as the unpaid workers seek to make ends meet. Individual rideshare drivers have reportedly been giving free rides to furloughed workers.

From the Great Lakes to the Deep South, a variety of restaurants are offering discounts and free meals to furloughed workers, and local food pantries have opened or received additional funding.

Several restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area are giving deals for affected workers during the shutdown. On Thursday, the local fast-casual Z-Burger restaurant gave away $12,000 worth of free burgers, fries and drinks to any worker with government identification, owner Peter Tabibian told NBC News. (Source: NBC News)
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