Trump Shutdown: ‘More of a Shakedown than a Shutdown’


January 11, 2019

Today is Day 21. At the stroke of midnight, the Trump Government Shutdown will be the longest continuous closing of government in U.S. history, surpassing the 21-day record that was set during the December 1995 shutdown that extended into January 1996.

Meanwhile, beginning today and continuing through Thursday, Jan. 17, most of the nearly 800,000 federal workers affected by the partial shutdown will begin to miss their paychecks. (Federal workers get paid on different days, depending on the agency they work for. There are nine federal agencies directly affected by the shutdown. Because of the way the federal pay cycle works, federal workers will not receive a paycheck until the Jan. 25-Jan. 31 pay period, even if the shutdown ends immediately. If the shutdown does not end in the next ten days or so, workers will miss their next paychecks as well.)

And workers are feeling the pain.

Although furloughed federal workers live in every state, it stands to reason that they are more concentrated in the Washington, D.C. area. About 362,000 federal workers overall – both those affected by the shutdown and those not affected – live within the Capital Area Food Bank’s service area, which includes D.C., Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland, as well as Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties in Virginia, and the Virginia city of Alexandria.

Typically in January, the Capital Area Food Bank distributes about 3 million meals to those in need. This month, the group is expecting to see a 10 to 20 percent increase – or a difference of 300,000 to 600,000 meals, which could cost up to $300,000.

“At this stage, we’re not only saying there’s a lot more meals we’ll need to provide, but also a lot more dollars we’ll need to acquire to attempt to do that,” said Radha Muthiaf, chief executive of the Capital Area Food Bank. “What we’re seeing now is an increase – people who are calling in, saying, ‘I’ve just been furloughed or I have a friend who has. Where should they go?’”

Furloughed government employees also are getting increasingly creative in coming up with ways to make money. Some have launched GoFundMe campaigns. Others are selling things on Craigslist or Ebay or creating online Facebook groups to market their wares. Many are working second or even third jobs.

And then there is the U.S. Coast Guard.

It published a five-page tipsheet for its furloughed civilian employees suggesting that they consider holding garage sales, babysitting, dog-walking or becoming a “mystery shopper” as ways to earn extra cash. (The memo was removed from the Coast Guard’s support program website after the Washington Post inquired about it.)

As the Trump Shutdown continues with no respite in sight, furloughed workers are beginning to fight back. Protests were organized on Thursday in California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

In D.C., workers rallied in front of the AFL-CIO building on 16th Street before marching to the White House. The crowd was so large that police closed off the section of the street in front of the labor building.

The protest attracted the attention of Maria Middleton.

She told the Washington Post that she attended the rally to tell members of Congress that “while they are tweedlydeeing and tweedlyduming about some damn wall – excuse my French – that lives are being affected.” Middleton, a Treasury Department employee and National Treasury Employees Union shop steward, emphasized she was speaking for herself.

J. David Cox Sr., President of the American Federation of Government Employees, told the protesters that Trump’s “effort at extortion is more of a lockout than a shutdown. But maybe an even more accurate description of this is that it’s a shakedown.”

By day’s end Thursday, even though there was no sign of the shutdown ending any time soon, there was one bit of promising news. Congress passed, and President Trump indicated he would support, back pay for federal workers if and/or when the shutdown does end.

Still not included in that are contract workers, many of whom are low-income workers who in the past have not received back pay.  (See previous Voices for Human Needs post about contracted workers.)

But some in Congress are focusing attention on helping those workers.

Thirty-four senators, led by U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) have written a letter to the Office of Management and Budget urging officials to instruct federal agencies to include contract workers when it comes to back pay.

“Contract workers and their families should not suffer the consequences of a shutdown that they did not cause,” the letter states. “Low-wage service contract workers perform jobs that are absolutely vital to the government, such as food service, security, and custodial work. Many of these workers live paycheck-to-paycheck, and cannot afford to pay their rent and other bills if the shutdown continues.”

Stay tuned to Voices for Human Needs for timely updates on the Trump Shutdown, and be sure to check out our Trump Shutdown Resources page.