It was supposed to be payday. Instead, with the partial government shutdown now in its 35th day, hundreds of thousands of federal workers received pay stubs Friday morning that read “$0.”
By Friday afternoon, hundreds of employees were gathered outside World Central Kitchen, a resource center offering free meals just blocks away from the White House (and Trump Hotel). The line stretched out the door and around the corner. At its shortest, it was about a half hour wait.
“It is beginning to be a stretch now, because it’s been a month. I’m having to use my savings to pay my bills with,” Elizabeth Crockett, 62, a contractor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told ThinkProgress as she waited in line. “I’m thinking that I might apply for unemployment benefits… That’s the first time I’ve done that for about ten years.”
Crockett has two children, one of whom is in college with high tuition costs that have become a major concern as she goes without pay. Additionally, because she’s a contractor, it’s unlikely she will get backpay once the government reopens.
“Congress has to make a… decision here about what they’re going to do. You can’t expect people just to work for nothing,” Crockett added. “We’re all in the same boat, and this is our country. We have to come together.”
An estimated 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed and are going without pay or have been required to work without pay since the start of the shutdown on December 21, and according to data from the Center for American Progress (CAP), those employees are missing out on $2 billion worth of paychecks Friday, the second pay period in a row they’ve gone without pay. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent publication housed at the Center for American Progress.)
On Friday morning, not long before the resource center offering free meals to workers opened for the day, many flights were halted along the east coast due to staffing shortages as air traffic controllers refused to show up to work.
“It’s only the beginning,” Rafael, a furloughed Smithsonian employee who declined to share his last name, said of the news. “The good Lord is on my side, so I’m able to make it, but I don’t know after this paycheck. It’s going to be hard.”
The trickle-down effect of the shutdown to contractors, restaurants, food truck owners, and Uber drivers who rely on the business of federal workers is also a major concern Rafael said. Additionally, at 65, Rafael said he was preparing to retire, but because of the shutdown, he said he expects to have to work longer to cover the mounting costs of the shutdown.
“I hope these people wake up,” he said, gesturing up the street to the Capitol.
Some in line posed for pictures and shook hands with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who told ThinkProgress she and her husband came to the resource center Friday to serve food.
“We’re just waiting to see some wisps of white smoke from the White House, to see if they’re going to sign off on any of the many [shutdown] proposals put before them, many of them bipartisan,” Klobuchar said. “We got a number of Republican votes yesterday for the bill to simply open up the government and then resume negotiations.”
Klobuchar called Friday’s flight delays due to staffing shortages “outrageous but not a surprise.”
“These workers just can’t keep working without pay. They have to pay their mortgages. Some of them are going to have to get jobs that pay them immediately,” the senator said. “And not only are we going to temporarily lose workers, we could permanently lose workers, especially in states like mine with low unemployment rates. And then what’s going to happen? So I think it makes us realize how much our federal workers do, but it also makes the senseless shutdown even more obvious. The president should end this.”
Chef José Andrés, who runs the World Central Kitchen, estimated Friday that over the last couple days, the non-profit had served between 10,000 and 11,000 meals per day in Washington, D.C.
I’m at World Central Kitchen, which is offering free meals to federal employees and their families today. They opened half an hour ago. A volunteer said it’s about a half hour wait right now. Here’s the line: pic.twitter.com/iNfsZdf7zx
— Addy Baird 👽 (@addysue) January 25, 2019
She added, “The president claims to care about the economy. Let’s see if he does.”
Federal employees are hardly the only ones affected by the shutdown. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is about to run out of money, which could leave 19 million families who rely on the program for food in limbo. Small businesses that accept SNAP benefits could also be dramatically affected. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meanwhile, has stopped routine inspections of seafood, fruits, and vegetables, and last Friday, domestic violence shelters funded by the Department of Justice were cut off.
Additionally, the D.C. Metro revealed in a letter to Maryland and Virginia senators last week that they are losing $400,000 per day as a result of the shutdown. National Parks are being vandalized, with trash and toilets running over, as the parks are without staff. Many IRS workers are also calling out to due “hardship,” CBS reported, which could delay tax returns. Many furloughed workers have reportedly begun filing for unemployment or taking out loans to cover expenses.
This piece was updated to include Chef José Andrés’ estimate of how many meals the non-profit has recently served.