Watch: For US government workers, the shutdown is not politics, it's personal

Concerned federal workers decry effects of US government shutdown Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters New Delhi, Delhi, India Jan 10, 2019, 10.44 PM (IST)

Concerned about their mortgages, tuition payments and weekly bills, federal workers and union leaders decried the effects of the federal shutdown on Monday (January 7) at a roundtable discussion organised by Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen to pressure the Republican president into reaching a deal that will reopen the government.

"We are people. We have bills to pay. We have mortgages to pay. We have food we need to eat to survive, just like everybody else. It's not a game to us. It sounds like it's a game to him, 'Oh, I'll keep the government shut down for months, for years.' Well what about the 800,000 people? Do you even care? Do you have a heart? It doesn't seem so." LaVerne Byrd, a statistician with the US Census Bureau said, rhetorically addressing President Trump.

As the partial federal government shutdown entered its 17th day after a funding impasse over President Donald Trump's demand for money to build a border wall, hundreds of thousands of federal workers face the possibility that they will not receive their paychecks on Friday (January 11) if the shutdown continues.

Ottis Johnson, who has worked at the National Gallery of Art for 8 years, said he contacted his mortgage company and the school where his 10 and 13-year-old daughters attend to tell them he may have to be late on his payments.

"We try to pay all our bills and stuff to our creditors on time but having to call the creditors and ask, to let them know that the government is shutting down and that one of us will not be working and we may not be able to make the mortgage payment is hard and embarrassing. They say that they will work with us to put us on a payment plan but then having to go to my daughter's school and inform them also that we will not be able to make the tuition payment because of the shutdown," he said.

For 13 years, Tyra McClelland has worked at CORE Services and Offender Supervision Services, where she provides support for people on probation. She said during that time, she had to survive other shutdowns, including a 16-day shutdown in 2013 President Barack Obama's administration over the Affordable Care Act. She feels that this one is different.

"At one point it was like, 'Oh, okay, we did this before, we're going to get through.' But this one is completely different when someone is telling you, 'I'm going to let this go on for months, if not years.' (JOURNALIST OFF-CAMERA: 'What is the worst case scenario?') Leaving the federal government and getting another job. That's the worst case scenario. I enjoy the work I do. I like the work I do. I feel that I make a difference in the community I serve and if this goes any further, I'm not going to be able to do that. A lot of us aren't going to be able to do that," she said.

As an essential federal worker, she and other CORE workers, like parole officer Jeffrey Barlow, have continued working despite the shutdown. But with uncertainty looming over him, Barlow said he has already made changes in the way his family lives.

"We've changed dramatically because I have the uncertainty of when this will end. We do have savings yes, but will I deplete my savings with rhetoric that says this will go on for years or this will go on for months. I do not have savings that will cover that type of timeframe," he said.

Van Hollen, a Democratic senator whose district borders Washington, DC and includes many federal workers and contractors, is encouraging his fellow Democratic senators to block consideration of bills unrelated to re-opening the government until Senator Mitch McConnell allows a vote on the bills to fund the government.

Story highlights

President Donald Trump to visit the US-Mexico border this week amid the partial federal government shutdown after a funding impasse over his demand for money to build a border wall.