Charisma Caucus

How Federal Employees Will Manage Through the Shutdown

A jogger runs pas the U.S. Capitol during the third day of a government shutdown in Washington.
A jogger runs pas the U.S. Capitol during the third day of a government shutdown in Washington. (REUTERS/Leah Millis)

Thousands of federal employees began the week on Monday trying to figure out if they would be working and getting paid, as U.S. Senate leaders tried to reach a deal to reopen the government open hours before a full Senate vote.

At the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, some 5,300 civilian workers were told to show up on Monday, the third day of the shutdown, regardless of whether they'd been scheduled to work that day, to learn if they would be furloughed.

The 1,800 members of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers who work at the base maintaining nuclear submarines were distressed by the news, said Debbie Jennings, president of the IFPTE Local 4.

"They don't know who is going to be furloughed and who is not, or why some and not others," Jennings said in an interview. "We were just notified that all union officials will be furloughed, which we don't think is right."

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Those who were furloughed were being given two to four hours to shut down their work stations, Jennings said.

Pentagon officials said more than half the Defense Department's civilian workers will be furloughed. A spokeswoman for the Portsmouth Naval Yard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The shipyard was just one of thousands of federal operations for which funding ran out at midnight on Friday and was not renewed amid a dispute between U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republicans and Democrats over immigration.

The federal Office of Personnel Management warned on Twitter it may not be able to provide updates on the government's operating status on its social media accounts due to the shutdown.

"Employees should refer to their home agency for guidance on reporting for duty," it said.

"This is incredibly stressful," said Jessica Klement, vice president at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, which represents more than 20,000 workers.

"Essential employees must report to work without knowing when they'll be paid next," she said. "Non-essential employees will be forced to stay home without pay, not knowing if back pay will be provided."

The Smithsonian Museum said on its website that its District of Columbia museums, research centers and the National Zoo will remain open on Monday using existing funds, but their status beyond then was uncertain.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt instructed all staff to work this week, telling employees in an email over the weekend that the agency has enough resources to remain open for a limited amount of time.

During shutdowns, non-essential government employees are furloughed, or placed on temporary unpaid leave. Those deemed essential, including those in public safety and national security, keep working.

The last shutdown in October 2013 lasted more than two weeks, and more than 800,000 federal employees were furloughed.

There is no official tally of how many would be furloughed this time. But local economies could suffer in communities where thousands of non-essential personnel are likely to be temporarily off the job - from Norfolk, Virginia, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Lakewood, Washington, and Oceanside, California.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will continue to process applications for health insurance open enrollment, officials said, and the Medicare program for the elderly and disabled is expected to function largely without disruption.

Pamela Gillis Gilbertz, a health communications worker for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said on Sunday night that Congress has always paid workers retroactively, but that it was not guaranteed.

Gilbertz, who was planning to log into her office computer on Monday for further guidance, said shutdowns could disrupt workers' finances, even if they are eventually repaid.

"For some people," she said, "it definitely will be a hardship if you live paycheck to paycheck and you have bills that you need to pay."

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