Like nearly 500,000 other federal employees around the country, Lashante Austin has been out of work since the government shutdown began ten days ago. And like many of them, Austin is struggling.
“I’m not going to be able to pay the rent,” Austin said on Thursday’s All In with Chris Hayes. ”I’ve got to put food on the table. I can’t tell the bill collectors, ‘Sorry, the government’s shut down.’“
Austin works security at the Statue of Liberty, helping to screen all the tourists who visit Liberty Island. This shutdown isn’t the first time in recent months that Liberty Island workers have been forced to stay home and lose a paycheck; after Hurricane Sandy, Austin had to get by on unemployment checks for a full nine months until the monument reopened to the public.
“I was on unemployment, but it wasn’t enough to pay the bills, so we were behind back then,” said Austin. Since the shutdown began she has reapplied for unemployment, but she is not yet sure whether she will receive those benefits.
Austin isn’t alone, said Larry Engelstein, executive vice president of the service employees union SEIU 32BJ. Along with Austin, that union represents another 1,000 or so federal government employees working for $19 per hour or less.
“People are struggling to make it even at those wages, week to week,” said Engelstein. “And we really need the Republicans to wake up and do their job like Lashante has been doing her job.”