What do I tell my mortgage company? As a federal worker, that is required to report for work during the shutdown, am I able to apply for unemployment? Since I am not being paid, what happens to my healthcare insurance premiums that are supposed to be paid from my check? Is there going to be a March FoodShare payment? These are just some of the questions I have received while 25 percent of the federal government shut down from December 22, 2018-January 25, 2019.
For the 800,000 federal employees whose lives hung in the balance, we need to make answers to these questions readily available. Everything from school lunches, to social safety net programs like food and housing assistance, to national security is in jeopardy during a shutdown. Some families got hit on multiple fronts.
Although there are agency by agency responses, there is no centralized place where impacted individuals can go to get answers. Whether at the federal or state level, residents have to comb through individual agency websites to get status updates and try to get their questions answered. Many people have no idea which agency they should contact or what to do when they hit a wall of silence.
This lack of guidance is further compounded by unempathetic responses from Trump administration cabinet members like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. A billionaire himself, Ross lamented the fact that federal workers were using food pantries to get them through the longest government shutdown in history and suggested that federal employees simply take out loans to cover their bills. Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, recently said in an interview that, “We get that this is unfair to you, but this is so much bigger than any one person. It is a little bit of pain…”
What’s painful is this nation’s shameful habit of allowing the least of these too often bear the greatest burden in the pursuit of change or policy. It is with this understanding that I support legislation that would stop government shutdowns in the future. There is a proposal that was introduced by U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) that would keep the government running in the case of a lapse in funding by automatically renewing government funding at the same levels as the previous fiscal year, with adjustments for inflation. More importantly, it would protect government workers, and others, from their own government.