Federal workers face grim prospect of lengthy shutdown

Updated: 2018-12-28 09:51
A sign declares the National Archive is closed due to a partial federal government shutdown in Washington, Dec 22, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON -- Three days, maybe four. That's how long Ethan James, 21, says he can realistically miss work before he's struggling.

So as the partial government shutdown stretched into its sixth day with no end in sight, James, a minimum-wage contractor sidelined from his job as an office worker at the Interior Department, was worried. "I live check to check right now," he said, and risks missing his rent or phone payment. Contractors, unlike most federal employees, may never get back pay for being idled. "I'm getting nervous," he said.

Federal workers and contractors forced to stay home or work without pay are experiencing mounting stress from the impasse affecting hundreds of thousands of them. For those without a financial cushion, even a few days of lost wages during the shutdown over President Donald Trump's border wall could have dire consequences.

As well, the disruption is starting to pinch citizens who count on a variety of public services, beyond those who've been finding gates closed at national parks. For example, the government won't issue new federal flood insurance policies or renew expiring ones.

Trump and congressional leaders appear no closer to a resolution over his demand for $5 billion for the border wall that could now push the shutdown into the new year. The House and Senate gaveled in for a perfunctory session Thursday, but quickly adjourned without action.

No votes are expected until next week, and even that's not guaranteed. Lawmakers are mostly away for the holidays and will be given 24-hour notice to return, with Republican senators saying they won't vote until all parties, including Trump, agree to a deal.

The president spent part of the day tweeting about the shutdown, insisting "this isn't about the Wall," but about Democrats denying him "a win." "Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?" he asked in one tweet, citing no evidence for that claim.

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