January 25, 2019 / 11:54 PM / 21 days ago

An end to U.S. shutdown leaves federal workers still feeling insecure

WASHINGTON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Deepan Patel was one of a number of U.S. government workers waiting in line for a meal on Friday at celebrity chef Jose Andres’ “Chefs for Feds” emergency kitchen, when he heard President Donald Trump had agreed to end a 35-day-old partial government shutdown.

Like many of the 800,000 furloughed workers across America, Patel, who works for the Internal Revenue Service, expressed both relief and uncertainty about whether the three-week agreement to fund the government would last beyond Feb. 15.

“I think it’s a big help, especially to get that back pay, get those paychecks,” Patel said. “And hopefully they make a deal before it shuts down again.”

The stop-gap funding agreement sets up tough talks between the president and lawmakers about how to address security along the U.S.-Mexican border, with Democrats appearing unyielding in their opposition to Trump’s desire to build a wall, a central promise of the Republican’s 2016 election campaign.

Dulce Hernandez, 37, an officer with the union representing IRS agents in Spring Valley, California, said her phone often rang at night from distraught employees worried about how to pay their bills.

“I’m hoping they get their ducks in a row and figure this out, because we can’t go through this again,” she said. “The level of stress. I wasn’t sleeping.”

Friday would have been the second payday missed for those affected by the partial shutdown. The deal includes back pay, which Trump said they would receive soon.

‘SENSE OF SECURITY’

A furloughed employee at the Bureau of Land Management in Taos, New Mexico, said he and his fellow workers could look forward to cleaning toilets at recreation areas that had not been touched in five weeks.

“This was a real hit in terms of morale,” said the employee who asked not to be identified. “We’ll spend part of Monday just regrouping, taking a break to have a burrito, catching up with colleagues to see how they got through this,” said the worker, who had to turn to his parents for a loan to support his family.

“There had always been a real sense of security with these federal jobs,” he added.

Racheal Abraham, 53, who has been working without pay as a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, looked forward to some temporary relief at least.

“It gives the federal employees a bit of relief for a few weeks before their stress levels go up again. We can’t continue to be thrown back and forth between being paid and having to wait to be paid, our lives depend on these paychecks.”

A spike in absences of TSA officers during the shutdown had led to closed checkpoints and long lines at some of the busiest airports in the United States.

Carole Sneed, who works for the General Service Administration, was also in line awaiting a meal at Jose Andres’ emergency kitchen on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House - the two focal points of the shutdown debate.

“I just hope that they are really going to come up with a real agreement so we can just go on with our lives,” Sneed said.

Reporting by Katharine Jackson and Temis Tormo in Washington, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; writing by Bill Tarrant; editing by Grant McCool

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