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'Fatigue Has Set In': South Florida Federal Workers Are Bracing For Continued Shutdown

Sam Turken
U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch addressed the government shutdown on Tuesday alongside unpaid federal workers.

Linda Jones is running out of options.

A Transportation Security Administration employee working without pay during the government shutdown, Jones has burned through her savings, cut her food consumption and reduced how much she drives. Now, she questions whether she can keep her home.

“If this goes on, how do I pay my mortgage? How do I pay for the repairs? How do I pay the utilities? Am I just going to be in a house that doesn’t have lights or electricity?” said Jones, who works at Miami International Airport.

With no end in sight to the partial shutdown, federal workers across South Florida are increasingly preparing for more months of no pay. Some are considering second jobs. Others are relying on spouses and families to buffer the impact. At the same time, airport operations at airports remain compromised as airplane inspectors and air traffic controllers are furloughed.

U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch of South Florida on Tuesday repeated Democratic calls for President Donald Trump and Congress to reopen the government before negotiations over border security continue. Deutch rejected Trump’s latest proposal to temporarily extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs in exchange for funding for a border wall.

“The president has created this chaos,” Deutch said, noting Trump’s past pledges to terminate both programs. “He’s now come back and said he wants to treat immigrants with a bit of respect and dignity? That’s outrageous.”

Trump has called the proposal “fair, reasonable and common sense with lots of compromise.”

Senate leaders appeared to reach a deal on Tuesday by planning two separate votes this week to end the shutdown: one on Trump's proposal and the other on a bill that would open the government without funding the wall. Both votes, though, are expected to fall short of the needed 60 votes to advance.  

For federal workers like Jones, the prolonged impasse now threatens another paycheck. She can no longer afford little snacks of baked goods and has stopped working overtime. With her savings gone, she now plans to rely on her family to cover necessary expenses.

Robert Guevara, an airplane inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who is furloughed, added he is trying to restructure his mortgage to ensure he can keep his home.

“I’m going through all those expenses that I don’t absolutely need to live, and I’m cutting them,” he said.

The FAA has said it’s bringing back thousands of furloughed employees after inspectors and air traffic controllers raised concerns that the shutdown is eroding the safety of air travel. But Bill Kisseadoo, president of the Miami union for federal air traffic controllers, said stress over bills is distracting workers who need to focus solely on ensuring that planes take off and land safely.

“Fatigue has set in,” he said, noting that air traffic control usually has a fatigue-mitigation program that lets workers call in sick if they’re struggling to focus.  But "we’re coming to work because we need to come to work because passengers have to get from point A to point B." 

The shutdown is hurting workers beyond the airport.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory on Virginia Key has closed. And many workers at the National Hurricane Center are furloughed at a time when researchers usually prepare for the upcoming Hurricane season. 

At the Department of Agriculture, thousands of more employees like Charlotte Blake are not receiving pay. At an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Miami on Monday, Blake said she has cut expenses and is relying on her husband’s lawn service to cover other bills.

“It’s just that I can’t help him like I normally would, so that’s kind of stressful for me,” she said.

The funding lapse at the USDA also threatens millions of poor and working-class Floridians who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program, also known as food stamps. The Agriculture Department has given out February benefits early due to the funding lapse. Officials have not committed to providing payments in March.