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Federal workers face another empty payday

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A second pay period without compensation arrives today for federal employees affected by the ongoing partial shutdown of the U.S. government.

At Oberlin’s Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, 358 out of 366 employees are working daily without compensation during the longest government shutdown in history while the remaining eight employees are on furlough.

“Some of our older employees have the money to live through this,” union president William Gentry said. “But the young guys, the ones making less than $15 an hour, they don’t know what they’re going to do. We had an employee call in tears the other day because her car battery had died and she couldn’t make it to work. All of us chipped in to get her a new one.”

Roughly 24,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees are working without pay while another 17,000 have been sent home on furlough.

Gentry said he and his employees have received a great deal of outreach from the community, including food donations from IGA, Lorenzo’s Pizzeria and Blue Rooster Bakehouse that will go toward an upcoming staff dinner.

“I can think of past shutdowns where we missed half a paycheck but then were immediately reimbursed,” he said. “I’m honestly shocked things have gotten to this point. We have to keep calling and emailing our legislative leaders. For the past 36 hours, there’s been a lot of that going on in this office.”

Gentry said his employees are in a tough position.

“If you don’t show up to work, you’re considered to be AWOL and a table of penalties come into play,” Gentry said. “If you don’t show up, you’ll lose your job. If this keeps up, people are going to stop coming to work and find a new job. They need money. Banks aren’t going to keep giving out low-interest loans.”

The government shutdown commenced Dec. 21 and on Jan. 12 became the longest in U.S. history, surpassing a

21-day shutdown that stretched from 1995 into 1996. Roughly 800,000 federal employees are now living without pay. More than half that total is working without pay with the expectation of being compensated when the shutdown ends. Those on unpaid furlough also will be compensated for pay that they missed.

Local pantries such as Lorain’s Second Harvest Food Bank, 5510 Baumhart Road, are starting to see the effect of the stalemate in the form of federal employees calling to see if they qualify for benefits.

Second Harvest Director of External Affairs Susan Bartosch said the pantry is well-stocked for the time being and prepared for increased need. Last fall, foreign tariffs applied to American exports resulted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture purchasing roughly $1.2 billion in food products from American farmers. That food was then distributed to a variety of social service programs including food banks.

“We’re just trying to be a conduit of information right now,” Bartosch said. “With this shutdown, it’s going to affect well over a million people on SNAP benefits in Ohio alone. The February SNAP benefits were loaded early onto EBT cards. So we wanted to make sure we were talking to people to let them know why they suddenly had extra money on there.

“We’re in a really good position right now with plenty of food in our warehouse,” she said. “All of our partner charities are ready to go. So if things start to get tight for some families, we’re ready to help. Some calls have come in from federal employees to explore the program and see what they’re eligible for.”

“In a month or so we’ll see what happens,” Bartosch said. “That’s when March benefits for SNAP would start to come up and some of this surplus food could be depleted. Right now, we just want to tell people where to go. It’s anybody’s guess what things will look like in a month.”

To make sure there is enough food available, the Community Foundation of Lorain County approved a $50,000 grant to Second Harvest to help those affected by the shutdown. The grant was voted on by the foundation’s board at its Jan. 16 meeting.

This week, Columbia Gas has announced it will waive late payment fees and offer extended payment plans for federal employees affected by the shutdown. Those wishing to discuss their situations have been encouraged to call (800) 344-4077.


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