Federal workers beg Congress to send them back to work

Updated
A furloughed federal employee holds a sign on the steps to the U.S. Capitol after the U.S. Government shut down last night, on Capitol Hill in Washington...
A furloughed federal employee holds a sign on the steps to the U.S. Capitol after the U.S. Government shut down last night, on Capitol Hill in Washington...
Larry Downing/Reuters

Entering day two of the government shutdown, Senate Democrats are insisting that House Speaker John Boehner to restore the federal government for the some 800,000 federal workers who’s lives are on hold after being furloughed.

“Obviously this is hurting individuals as well as hurting our local economy and our national economy,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, at a press conference Wednesday. “These are real people – not numbers – you hear the numbers, but real people’s lives have been affected by this government shutdown.”

One of those people is Amy Fritz, who works for the National Weather Service building storm models, and is especially worried that she’s not able to do her job during hurricane season.

“I build and develop the models that predict storm surge from events like Sandy that hit us last October and is still very much in the hearts of many of us,” she said. “And yet, I’m not able to do my job. I’m furloughed. I can’t go to work, so if something should happen during the rest of our hurricane season I’m like the rest of the Americans furloughed and unable to do their job.”

After earning two masters degrees to help qualify her for her job, she’s also facing significant debt.

“My education didn’t come free. I have student loan debts to the sound of $130,000,” she said. “I’ve got to pay them back. I owe this money for my fine education. I chose it because I believe in our mission: We are here to save lives and protect property.”

She also pointed out that many of her colleagues have young children and spouses who are also furloughed federal workers, creating an even more dire financial situation.

That’s true for Marcelo Del Canto, who works for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, where 90% have been furloughed according to Cardin. For Del Canto’s family, the damage is doubly hard to cope with.

“My wife is a federal employee, she has also been furloughed,” he said. “This has devastating impact.”

He also insists that while he may technically be non-essential, his work is needed. “I speak for myself and my colleagues when I tell you we need to get this work done, we need to get back to work, and we need to do it now,” he said.

Carter Kimsey, who works for the National Science Foundation, also wants to get back to work, and feels let down by lawmakers in Washington.

“I’ve been furloughed. I’ve been laid off. I’ve been locked down. Locked out. It all feels like – pretty horrible,” she said. “To live in this great country and to be treated this way is very discouraging when you’ve put your heart and soul into it for almost 40 years.”

She highlighted the impact that the furlough is having on her local economy too.

“I was going to buy a car last weekend. I didn’t buy a car. Now I can live without a new car,” she said. “I feel sorry for the salesman. He was pretty disappointed when I said, ‘Sorry, I’ve just been furloughed.”

“I have colleagues who will have trouble paying their medical bills or will have trouble supporting their families,” she added. “We don’t deserve this.”

Although the workers avoided talking politics, their Democratic lawmakers were quick to step in, placing the pressure squarely on Boehner and his tea party supporters.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, another Maryland Democrat, blasted her colleagues for ”slamdown politics,” insisting that the only way forward was a vote on the Senate’s clean bill, and that negotiations over details would have to wait.

“They need to take up and pass the resolution, take up and pass the legislation sent by the Senate that strips a continuing funding resolution of all politically motivated riders,” she said, calling for six-week solution “so we could resolve our fiscal differences,” without keeping people from working.

“We call upon Speaker Boehner – let your members vote on the Senate legislation,” she demanded. “Yes or No. If you vote yes, we can move forward, if you vote no, let’s take another look at it.”

Meanwhile Republicans have yet to signal a willingness to pass the legislation that could put these employees back to work immediately, instead insisting on negotiations or piecemeal funding. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweeted out an image Tuesday showing the eight Republican conferees who hope to negotiate a deal with Democrats.

We sit ready to negotiate with the Senate. #FairnessForAll pic.twitter.com/WVZ8ZY00Es

— Eric Cantor (@GOPLeader) October 1, 2013

Sitting across from a series of empty chairs, the image of the lawmakers was reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s empty chair speech from the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Some Republicans have been touting the importance of restoring the National Parks Service, meeting with World War II veterans who traveled to Washington to see the memorial dedicated in their honor, only to find barricades. Republicans insist these veterans deserve access to their parks, while Democrats insist that federal employees also deserve to go back to work.

Boehner has been pushing a  step-by-step refunding plan that would bring back some parts of the government like the Park Service and operations in the District of Columbia. Most Democrats oppose the move, insisting they want to fully restore the full government’s capacity before engaging in negotiation over details.

“We need to reopen the entire federal government” Mikulski said Wednesday. “Each one of these agencies throughout the functioning of the federal government performs a needed and essential service.”

Meanwhile, for people like Carter Kimsey and Marcelo Del Castro, there is no guarantee on whether they will receive back pay for the time they were stuck at home, or simply be forced to find a way to pay their bills with less money.

While Senators Susan Collins and John McCain have said they would support back pay, many of their colleagues are still undecided on the issue. But Sen. Chuck Grassley thinks the chances aren’t great, and many others say it’s too early to say, according to a round up from the Huffington Post.

Those hoping for a resolution to the crisis will keep their eyes on the White House Wednesday afternoon, where President Obama is set to meet with congressional leaders from both parties to discuss a way forward.

Federal workers beg Congress to send them back to work

Updated