Shutdown stories: Federal workers fear another closure as border talks continue

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

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Despite the temporary resolution to the standoff over the federal budget, U.S. government employees told Yahoo News they’re still nervous about the potential for another shutdown.

“My first reaction to the government reopening was I was pretty happy about it,” said Paul Garcia, a U.S. Border Patrol agent. “I was pretty ecstatic, actually. Then I realized it’s just a continuing resolution and we might be in the same boat a few weeks from now.”

At 35 days, the shutdown was the longest in the nation’s history. It ended last Friday, after Trump agreed to a deal with congressional leaders to open the government for three weeks and to create a bipartisan committee to draft a comprehensive border security bill. Trump has continued to float the possibility of declaring a national emergency to construct a wall along the border without a specific appropriation.

“I’m not even sure what is to come,” said Garcia. “I think the only thing we can do is prepare ourselves financially and keep our savings high, because you never know what’s going to happen with the federal government these days.”

The shutdown affected approximately 800,000 federal workers, some put on furlough and others required to report to their jobs without being paid. Federal workers took out loans, called in sick to work other jobs, relied on food banks and sold off personal items to meet their expenses until they receive back pay, which should happen for all employees by Thursday. Over half a million government contractors including custodians, security guards and IT consultants are still fighting to receive back pay.

The effects of the shutdown go beyond the financial. John Lauretig, a former park ranger at Joshua Tree National Park in California, said the consequences of the five-week shutdown will be felt for years.

“Some of the worst damage I’ve seen in the park is the off-road driving people have done,” said Lauretig. “Those road scars will be there for decades, because the desert is a sensitive environment and it doesn’t recover quickly.” A former Joshua Tree superintendent estimated that some of the damage would take 200 to 300 years to fully recover.

As federal workers attempt to catch up with five weeks of missed work and missed paychecks, they must deal with the psychological effects of waiting for another possible shutdown to commence.

“I am terrified we’re going to go out again,” said Freda McDonald, the executive vice president of the union that represents FEMA employees. “I absolutely do not expect a deal to be reached between Congress and the White House by Feb. 15.”