Black federal workers bear brunt of government shutdown
Arnetta is a 40-something African-American woman living in the nation’s capital who’s been working about seven years on what folks sometimes call “a good government job.”
“I’m a project manager with a leading science agency,” the single professional said, noting the excellent benefits and a “high pay grade,” thanks to a college degree and experience.
But like so many federal workers across the country, she is understandably frustrated by the Congressional budget impasse that has led to America’s first government shutdown in 17 years.
The latest gridlock on Capitol Hill stems from a small band of House and Senate Republicans who have used the latest budget process to try to defund the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which launches today.
“I wouldn’t call it shock,” Arnetta said of the shutdown, “but I started to come to the slow realization that — ‘wow’ — we may really be furloughed this time.”
“It’s frustrating. How long will this last?” she asked. “I have [financial] reserves and can survive– temporarily. But if this goes on for an extended period I’m worried about other workers who aren’t making that much. We have to be cognizant that we’re coming out of a recession.”
The shutdown will impact in different ways some of the nation’s more than 2 million civilian workers, about a fifth of whom experts estimate to be people of color.
According to various data, African-Americans represent approximately half of the minorities who would be out of work as certain government operations are no longer up and running.
In a speech yesterday at the White House, President Barack Obama laid out the potential impact of a shutdown, one that became a reality after Congress failed to pass a spending measure last night.
He warned that as “America’s largest employer,” a federal government that’s ceased operations could cause widespread distress.
“Office buildings would close. Paychecks would be delayed. Vital services that seniors and veterans, women and children, businesses and our economy depend on would be hamstrung,” the president said.
“Business owners would see delays …in permits. … Veterans who’ve sacrificed for their country will find their support centers unstaffed. Tourists will find every one of America’s national parks and monuments, from Yosemite to the Smithsonian to the Statue of Liberty, immediately closed.”
NASA will shut down almost entirely, he added, although Mission Control will remain open to support the astronauts serving on the Space Station.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of public servants who stay on the job will do so without pay, Obama said, while several hundred thousand more will be immediately and indefinitely furloughed without pay.
That’s a bitter pill for many federal employees to swallow, plenty of whom have taken to social media and other forums of late to express their displeasure.
“It is disappointing that federal government workers continue to be a pawn in the BS game of chess,” wrote a longtime federal employee on the East Coast named * Barbara on her Facebook page, one filled with postings about the African-American community, her family and friends. “We [workers] do so much and get so little. How can you shut us down. … If [we’re] essential approve the budget and treat us as essential.”
Federal employees aren’t the only ones speaking out.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray recently declared all District government operations as “essential” during the federal shutdown. According to the district’s website, he sent a letter to the head of the federal Office of Management and Budget explaining his decision, which some lawyers have called illegal.
“I have determined that everything the District government does – protecting the health, safety and welfare of our residents and visitors – is essential,” said Gray in a recent radio address.
“It is ridiculous that a city of 632,000 people – a city where we have balanced our budget for 18 consecutive years and have a rainy-day fund of well over a billion dollars – cannot spend its residents’ own local tax dollars to provide them the services they’ve paid for without Congressional approval.”
He added that “Congress can’t even get its own fiscal house in order; they should be taking lessons from us rather than imposing needless suffering on us. I will not allow the safety and well-being of District residents to be compromised by [their] dysfunction.”
As Democrats and Republicans continue their debate on Capitol Hill today, not all is lost in the midst of the political wrangling.
Seniors on Social Security will keep receiving their checks, mail will still be delivered and government operations related to national security or public safety will go on. Employees such as air traffic controllers, prison guards and border control will remain on the job, though the latter will find their paychecks delayed until the government reopens.
Moreover, open enrollment for the new health care law will still begin today, Obama stressed, no matter the budget situation.
Barbara, the federal worker who posted on Facebook, noted that however long this latest impasse lasts, come next election Americans should “vote for responsible representation in a responsive government.”
Then she ended her missive with a bit of hope — a sentiment that may help to sustain other federal workers. “[I’m] praying for good.”