Furloughed Federal Employees Wait, Watch and Worry


More than 800,000 federal government workers remained off the job Oct. 9 as Democrat and Republican continued to fail to reach a compromise that would end the shutdown. The workers include long-time residents and new hires, administrators and blue-collar workers, each hoping to get back to work soon.

Marc Willis, Sterling, Va.
Public Affairs Specialist

Marc Willis and his wife Kesha, were planning a trip to Puerto Rico on Oct. 3 to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. But the government shutdown forced them to put their much-anticipated trip on hold.

Willis, a public affairs specialist with the federal government who works in the District, has been spending the furlough doing odd jobs. Until the last moments of September 30, when the federal government’s fiscal year expired, he felt “very optimistic that there would be an 11th hour decision.”

Now he is worried.

“I still have a mortgage to pay, a car note. We have things like groceries,” Willis told the {AFRO}. “We have to keep the lights on.”

Fortunately, for the Willises, Kesha is still working. Though they will not go hungry, he is no longer confident that his good government job will always provide for his family. Since he has been furloughed, he has been at the computer, looking for work.

“I have been exploring public relations options in the corporate world,” he said. “It used to be that government employment was safe. It was secure. But with the political environment here in D.C., it doesn’t feel that way anymore. And I have a lot of years to go before I retire.”

Last week for the first time in his life, Willis filed for unemployment benefits.
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Angela Nykanen, Minneapolis, Minn.
Administrator

The waiting might be tougher for federal workers who don’t live in the shadow of the Capitol. Angela Nykanen is a furloughed federal administrator with the Food and Drug Administration. Her husband also is also a federal worker, but he is exempted from the furlough, which means for the time being, he is working, though not getting paid.

Nykanen blames politicians who, she said, are holding the country hostage. Like other furloughed federal workers, Nykanen said she is making sure she stays on top of the news each day. After helping to get her husband off to work, she walks their dog, and then heads out to volunteer at a couple of local agencies.

Nykanen has worked for the federal government for 19 years, but she left just before the last government shutdown to join the private sector. She was confident that the mass furlough would be averted. She said she is angry that federal workers, who took a hit during the sequester, are being hit again.

“The bills that will get paid are the must pays, not to shut anything off or get the car repossessed,” she said. “Utilities, they may lapse a couple of months.”

She is not confident that the shutdown will end anytime soon.

“I believe it was just [Republicans’] poker face to get to the debt ceiling issue and that’s gonna be the card they are going to use to hold us hostage.”
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Medinat Rasheed, Silver Spring, Md.
Cook

Medinat Rasheed, 51, a single mother who lives in Silver Spring who has worked in the cafeteria at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda for 14 years.

When she reported for work Oct. 1, she was immediately sent home. Although she knew about the government shutdown from watching television news, she did not think she—the cook—would be among the Americans being furloughed.

At home, she said she has nothing to do but watch TV, clean the house and cook.

“This is a very difficult time for me financially,” Rasheed said. “I have credit card bills to worry about, my mortgage bill. What’s worse is that I have a daughter in college to think about. I am afraid that soon, I will not be able to afford my groceries.”
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Victoria Jones, Bowie, Md.
Program Coordinator

Not having a job hasn’t been all bad for Victoria Jones, 27, a program coordinator at the Department of Justice. Currently working on an MBA and a master’s, she’s used some of the off time to “get ahead studying,” she said.

She heard about the shutdown from emails that were sent out at work.

“They told us to keep up with the news and if Congress didn’t reach a compromise [by Sept. 30], not to come to work,” she said.

A government employee for five years, Jones said she will be able to make it for several more weeks with her savings. The time off also has given her the opportunity to spend time with her parents and siblings as one family member faces a health challenge.

“My circumstance is a little different than people who have families and children,” she said. “I had just gotten the news about my dad. We were still trying to figure out what to do or whatever information there was. The time helped me with getting adjusted to the new situation with my dad.”

The first day she slept, picked up her nephews Cade, 7, and Carson, 5, from school and spent time and headed over to her parents house. The second day she cleaned out some closets and drawers in her townhouse, threw away some clothes and visited her parents.

“I think I went to the gym and ran, also,” she said.

She has stayed in touch with friends and colleagues. One friend had a kind of furlough “ladies night” at her home. She’s having lunch or dinner with another friend this week.

On Oct. 8, she made barbecue chicken for her parents. Then she spent time with her nephews.

She refuses to stress over a situation that is “out of my control.”

“I’m contemplating getting a part time job to pass the time,” she said. “I’m not going to take years off my life worrying about it. I might apply to New York & Co. At least I’d get a discount out of it.”
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Chantra Rideaux, New Orleans
Public Affairs Specialis
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Chantra Rideaux’s days are filled with anxiety.

“Every morning when I get up the first thing I do is check the news,” she said. “I’m reading the paper, I’m looking online. I’m watching the television to see if any progress has been made and in what way. A good chunk of my morning is spent on that.”

The former television news producer has been with the federal government for three years. The last year and half she has worked for the Department of the Interior in New Orleans. Last weekend, she left the New Orleans area because of the threat of dangerous weather. With the government shutdown, she didn’t know if federal agencies would respond to a weather catastrophe.

“We are not really certain about anything,” Rideaux said.

Freelancer Maria Adebola contributed to this report.

Furloughed Federal Employees Wait, Watch and Worry

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