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Shutdown Is The Latest Hit To Federal Worker Wallets, Morale


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Day two of a government shutdown ends with little progress. Congressional leaders emerged from a meeting with President Obama at the White House expressing frustration. Here's House speaker, Republican John Boehner.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: You know, in times like this, the American people expect their leaders to come together and to try to find ways to resolve their differences, and the president reiterated one more time tonight that he will not negotiate.

CORNISH: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats aren't budging either.

SENATOR HARRY REID: The one thing we made very clear in that meeting: we are locked in tight on Obamacare.

CORNISH: In the meantime, an estimated 800,000 federal workers are idle and over a million more are working but with no idea when they'll be paid. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: These are trying times for federal employees. They're in the third year of a pay freeze. The sequester has already forced many to take unpaid furlough days this year. Now, many are locked out of their office for who knows how long. President Obama addressed their plight earlier this week.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What, of course, will not be furloughed are the bills that they have to pay, their mortgages, their tuition payments, their car notes.

NAYLOR: That description fits George Schlaffer to a T. Schlaffer is a 40-year IRS employee in Baltimore. He says the shutdown means a lot of stress for him and his colleagues.

GEORGE SCHLAFFER: For me personally, it's an extreme hardship. I have a daughter at Temple Medical School in her third year. I have another daughter in a nursing program at Towson. I'm helping both my daughters with their tuition. And I still have a mortgage debt, so it has a tremendous impact on me. But it has more of an impact on a lot of my co-workers who are single moms and their salary is lower.

NAYLOR: I spoke with Schlaffer at a Capitol Hill rally put together by the unions that represent federal employees. Cheryl Daniel is a nurse at the federal prison complex in Butner, North Carolina. Her job has been deemed essential. So she's working, but doesn't know when her next paycheck will arrive.

CHERYL DANIEL: We're underbudgeted, understaffed, short every time you turn around and look, and now we're being forced to go to work with no compensation. That's unacceptable.

NAYLOR: How do you feel about that? I mean, do you...

DANIEL: I'm angry. You can tell it in my voice. I'm angry. I'm disheartened. I'm ashamed. I'm embarrassed. It's unacceptable.

NAYLOR: Dennis Johnston also works at the Butner prison, where he supervises inmates. He says the effect on his finances will depend on how long the shutdown lasts.

DENNIS JOHNSTON: I work hard, and I save my money so I don't have to live paycheck to paycheck. But if I'm going month to month and trying to prioritize what I need to do, yeah, it's a hardship at that point.

NAYLOR: Federal employees say the shutdown is also a blow to the genuine sense of mission many bring to their jobs. Johnston says it could be a warning.

JOHNSTON: If you believe in service, this shouldn't dissuade you. But understand what you'd be getting into potentially working for the federal government. You know, these things can happen.

NAYLOR: NPR reached out on social media to other federal employees. A TSA worker in Salt Lake City said they've been told they must work their scheduled shifts and their pay is, quote, "delayed." The worker wrote that TSA supervisors said they can give us letters to give to our creditors.

While those employees on the job will eventually get paid, what happens to the furloughed workers is uncertain. After the last government shutdown in 1995 and '96, Congress voted for retroactive pay. It's unclear whether this Congress will be as generous. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.