U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), who represents a Northern Virginia district containing one of the largest concentrations of federal employees in the U.S. House, today shared excerpts of letters constituents sent him during the 2018-19 shutdown. Their stories, shared with personal identifiable information removed, show the hardship and uncertainty experienced by federal employees who were furloughed or worked without pay during that shutdown.
The 2018-19 lapse in appropriations resulting from Donald Trump’s demands for border wall funding caused a partial government shutdown of many agencies, affecting 800,000 federal employees.
If Republicans block passage of government funding beyond Sept. 30, 2023, it will result in a wider shutdown that would halt pay for far more of the federal government’s 2.2 million permanent, civilian, non-postal employees. Large portions of the nation’s millions of contractors would also face loss of pay, many of whom never received back pay after previous shutdowns. More than half of Americans say they live paycheck to paycheck.
”[In the] shutdown five years ago, we had people who work for the government of the most powerful country in the world waiting in food lines in our capital city.”
— U.S. Rep. Don Beyer
A shutdown would also result in the loss of key services to the American people across the country, weaken national security, and damage the economy. Despite the hardship a shutdown would inflict on millions of Americans, however, House Republicans continue to downplay the negative effects of – and even express the desire to see – a government shutdown.
“I urge my colleagues to remember that there are a lot of real people out there who will be hurt if there is a government shutdown. These letters and emails show how shutdowns are a disaster for my constituents, our region, and millions of Americans across the country,” Beyer said.
“When Donald Trump caused a shutdown five years ago, we had people who work for the government of the most powerful country in the world waiting in food lines in our capital city. Today untold numbers of federal employees and contractors – most of whom live and work outside the capital region – are preparing to face that hardship and uncertainty again.
“Intentionally forcing millions of workers to go without pay and shutting down essential services for the American people isn’t responsible governance, it is extremism,” Beyer said. “Yet today Republicans in both chambers are confidently predicting a shutdown that they are themselves making more likely with bad faith posturing, nihilism, and unrealistic demands that violate the Speaker’s agreement with President Biden.”
Beyer is the lead sponsor in the House of the End Shutdowns Act. He previously helped pass legislation during the 2019 shutdown that ultimately gave back pay to federal employees at the end of that shutdown, and guaranteed back pay to federal employees following any future lapse in appropriations.
Excerpts from letters from 2018-29 shutdown:
My name is [REDACT] and I am a resident of [REDACT]. I am also a Federal employee. I currently work, or should be currently working, in [REDACT]. As I sit at home, I think of all of my work piling up and reports with fast approaching due dates; I want to be able to do my job. Next week will be my first missed paycheck due to the current furlough.
I would like to tell you about the hardships that my family is currently enduring. We have a small savings, but not much, and estimate that we may be able to miss two of my paychecks before we are in dire straits. I have a husband, who is currently working, but who also has a lower income than I do, so relying on his income alone is not an option. We are a one car family, as I have been able to rely on the Metro to take me to and from my job; just two days ago we needed a large brake job on our car. That was an $800 unexpected and unavoidable expense and at a time when I have no income. We are relying on credit cards which, until last month, we had been working diligently to pay off.
I have a two year old son; he is currently in daycare. To pull him out of daycare temporarily to save money would forfeit his spot and, as you may know, daycares in this area are at a premium and waitlists are long. In addition, daycares in the DMV area are also very high cost; we are required to continue to pay more than $1500 a month for his daycare while we wait for the government to re-open.
If that were not enough, we recently found out that we are expecting our second child. At a time that we should be making every effort to save money, instead we are terrified about how we will pay our rent next month, adding to our credit card debt, not paying down our student loans.
Having been in the military, we are no strangers to government shutdowns. However, until this point, we had not experienced one in which there was seemingly no end in sight. This email is not a political message (we are well aware of the Hatch Act), but instead a plea to you, our elected representative, for help. We love our jobs, and we love contributing to the greater good. We have been fiscally responsible … and we have multiple months worth of savings for emergencies such as this. However, the prospect of a shutdown lasting months, or even years, is terrifying.
While [REDACT] has told us that our health insurance will continue to be covered even though we are not getting paid, how long will that last? At what point should we start applying for other jobs? And how can I take leave when our baby is born if all leave has been cancelled? It is the undefined length of this shutdown, the not knowing, that is the worst part. … Nevertheless, we continue to go to work each day without pay and without knowing what the future holds.
I am a ten-year federal employee [REDACT]. I am on furlough and am extremely concerned about the adverse effects of this shutdown. On a personal level, I'm concerned that my federal health insurance (which covers myself, my husband, and our two-year-old son) will lapse. I am even more concerned, however, for the many families facing difficulty paying their rent, mortgages, and other bills due to the lapse in appropriations. It is completely unacceptable that federal employees are facing eviction, late fees, and adverse credit actions because our Congress cannot pass a budget.
I am a single mother to 3 small children. My ability to provide for my children stops the moment the government goes into shutdown. As an [REDACT], my job is difficult enough as it is. However, every [REDACT] is placed under undue stress when our ability to provide for our families becomes limited.
I own a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business that has contracts with the Federal Government. Our contracts with [REDACT] have been stopped due to the shutdown. My company and our employees work hard to support the Federal Government to help them solve complex issue and ultimately save taxpayer money. Up to this point I have chosen to pay our employees that are not able to work. I have expended our available cash and have taken loans against my home to keep paying our employees. I am now at a decision point. Do I borrow more money or do I layoff my hard-working employees. With no end in sight I struggle with what to do.