On day 19 of the federal government shutdown, Joe McCabe stood in the lobby of the Hurff Ackerman Saunders Federal Building and gazed up toward where his office was.
“My plants are up there dying, I think,” McCabe joked. “Who knew it would be this long?”
The plants in his office — where he’s not legally allowed to go as he’s furloughed — are the least of his and many of his colleagues’ concerns. McCabe, 55, is a paralegal specialist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s General Counsel’s Office.
Federal employees across the country are either on furlough or working without pay as a result of an impasse in Washington, D.C. President Donald Trump and Congress have been unable to reach an agreement about the national budget. At the center of negotiations is funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
McCabe’s hoping to retire in a couple years, and hopes this shutdown doesn’t drag on as he’s still saving. He and his wife were hoping to buy a new car this month. That plan is certainly on hold. There are no date nights for the time being and no impulse purchases.
He said it’s been surreal to be without work for the first time since he was 13. He’s worked through multiple government shutdowns, but none this long. Wednesday was the 19th day of the shutdown.
“I think we kind of figured it might be a paycheck or two just because of the state of the administration and everyone digging their heels in,” McCabe said.
For many people such as McCabe, a few weeks without pay is extremely inconvenient. For Mary Goode, the shutdown’s effect extends from coast to coast.
Goode — Mary B. Goode to her friends — is a 71-year-old administrative assistant for the NOAA Fisheries Habitat Conservation Division. She’s planning on retiring next year, but her main concern at the moment isn’t for herself. It’s for her son, nearly 4,000 miles away.
Her son, who lives in South Carolina, was in construction until he badly injured his hand on the job and wasn’t able to return. He decided to get his degree, but is struggling to make ends meet. Goode said she’s sending him money for rent, food and gas. Without her paycheck, she won’t have anything to send him. He’s told her that he’ll figure something out, but that hasn’t stopped her from worrying.
Goode, who is currently in Seattle for eye surgery, said via phone Wednesday that she thinks those at the top are unaware of how many people — federal employees or not — are touched by this shutdown.
“It affects more than one person,” Goode said. “It’s ridiculous, as far as I’m concerned, that the administration has no awareness of how government agencies work and what they actually do.”
Goode said she’s applied for unemployment in case the shutdown lasts much longer, and said she’s heard of others doing that as well. That won’t kick in for a couple weeks, though. Fortunately, her health insurance covers her surgery this week.
Consequences of the shutdown have trickled down beyond families as well. Cafe Napoli, on the second floor of the Federal Building, has been so empty in recent weeks that owner Erik Scholl is starting to worry for his employees.
The cafe, which opened in October, was just starting to do well when the holidays hit. Business is always a bit irregular over the holidays, Scholl said, as he’s learned from operating cafes in the State Office Building. But this holiday season was particularly rough, he said, with employees in the Federal Building being furloughed or working without pay.
Scholl said the cafe had about 75 percent fewer customers than normal at first, and now their business is only at about 50 percent as the shutdown drags on. There are four employees at Cafe Napoli, he said, and he’s having to cut some of their shifts.
“We’re at this point where, do I lay people off and then have to rehire them in a couple weeks or a month or however long it takes, or do I keep them on and cut everybody’s shifts,” Scholl said Wednesday.
Across the street from the Federal Building, Coppa (a coffee, food and ice cream shop) has seen a slight dip in its business, owner Marc Wheeler said. In support of those on furlough or working without pay, the coffee shop is giving out free drip coffees to any federal employees who come in, he said.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Brian Dykens said Wednesday that not much has changed for local Coast Guard employees since late December when the shutdown began. Fifty-three civilian employees (of 59 total civilian employees) in Juneau were furloughed, he said in December, and he said Wednesday that the number remains the same.
Employees in uniform got a paycheck on Dec. 31, Dykens said, but it’s still unclear if they’ll get their usual paycheck on Jan. 15. The Coast Guard’s essential services (search and rescue or environmental response, for example) are still funded. CWO3 Chad Saylor from the national Coast Guard Media Relations Office said via email in December that the Coast Guard has certain funds that allow them to carry out operations in the interest of national security or live-saving efforts.
Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski spoke on a national stage Wednesday about how the shutdown is affecting the state. The Associated Press quoted her expressing similar sentiments to Goode, saying “it’s not just those who don’t receive a federal paycheck perhaps on a Friday but there are other consequences.” She also put out a statement on her Twitter account.
“I continue to stress that there is no good reason for a shutdown,” Murkowski’s statement read. “The reality is thousands of federal employees and contractors have no paycheck in sight, small businesses that rely on them are suffering and there’s no reason they should be held hostage to a political dispute.”
I continue to stress that there is no good reason for a shutdown. The reality is thousands of federal employees & contractors have no paycheck in sight, small businesses that rely on them are suffering & there’s no reason they should be held hostage to a political dispute. pic.twitter.com/VBMNUACU78
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) January 9, 2019
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.