During the U.S. government’s recent 35-day shutdown, from Dec. 21 to Jan. 25, the longest in U.S. history, community members and Paly parents who work in government positions had their jobs furloughed and went more than a month without receiving pay.
The government jobs stationed locally include those for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
“There is a lot of frustration,” said David Loftus, a medical officer at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View and parent of a Paly student from the Class of 2018. “There is also a lot of apprehension about going without paychecks — which can be difficult for anybody.”
The Ames Research Center, which employs approximately 2,600 workers, engages in research and technology for a range of topics including aeronautics, astrobiology, nanotechnology and medical technology.
During a shutdown, the federal government, which hires both civil servants and contractors, deems certain civil servants “essential,” asking them to continue to work without pay for the time being. Contractors, which the U.S. Government Accountability Office describes as personnel whose work “involves basic management functions,” often are most hurt by government shutdowns, as the federal government typically has no plan to pay them for their time out of work during a shutdown.
“The contractors (at Ames) can range from support staff, such as janitorial staff and people who help take care of the facilities, all the way up to scientists who work side-by-side with the civil servants,” Loftus said.
The government does not allow government employees who are not deemed “essential” to come into work. The shutdown, caused by Congress’ disagreement with the President over border security, was “partial,” since not all government operations stopped and many people continued to work, even though they weren’t receiving paychecks.
Jake Martin, a Bay Area-based member of the U.S. Coast Guard, worked without pay during the shutdown. He was on active duty, meaning the U.S. Coast Guard required him to show up to work, but he feared the repercussions of going to work without pay.
“I am on edge. The real question is, is how long would my apartment be understanding if I couldn’t pay rent. Would I be evicted?”
The Coast Guard is the only branch of the military not being paid, as they fall under the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense. Because of Martin’s worries about paying his bills, including rent, water and power, he has taken advantage of the resources available to members of the Coast Guard.
“I had to get a loan with USAA to cover three months of my paycheck just in case. If I didn’t get approved, I would be in a world of hurt,” Martin said.
Coast Guard contractor and Bay Area resident, Kevin Bruin had been furloughed since Dec. 21 and although he said he did not experience the hardships of members of the Coast Guard, he did start to become progressively more concerned about what he and his family might have had to sacrifice at the hand of the shutdown.
“I’m afraid that this additional stress, of having no money, will push people over the edge.”
The Trump administration chose to keep national parks, which California is tied for the most in any state, open during the shutdown. Without park rangers, the parks accumulated trash and feces. Palo Alto High School alumnus and park ranger Mark Blackburn said he started feeling mounting pressure of paying bills during the 35 days without pay.
“I’m beginning to worry about being able to pay our bills,” Blackburn said. “In particular, our mortgage payments.”