TSA Workers are among the many government employees filing for unemployment benefits. (Department of Homeland Security)
TSA Workers are among the many government employees filing for unemployment benefits. (Department of Homeland Security)

The government shutdown — now the longest on record — has prompted tens of thousands of federal employees to seek jobless benefits, according to a new report.

As the impasse meanders through its fourth week and more bills come due, their numbers have been growing.

On Thursday, Jan. 17, two days after the White House doubled its projections and warned that the shutdown was reducing quarterly economic growth by 0.13 percentage points per week, the New York Times reported that the Labor Department said 10,454 initial claims by federal workers for the week ending Jan. 5 doubled the previous week’s figure.

Thousands more have applied since, state officials said.

For federal workers such as Maritza Castillo, desperation may have set in.

“Today is the first time in my government career that I have received a zero paycheck,” Castillo told The Informer, detailing just how much she and other dedicated workers are dealing with the life-altering situation.

“It’s a very sickening feeling not knowing when my next paycheck is coming,” Castillo said. “I don’t remember the last time in the past 19 days that I have had a good night’s sleep. I have lost faith in the people empowered to run our country.”

While Castillo didn’t indicate whether she’d file for unemployment, she later posted on her social media page that she’s available for a “side job.”

Many others have used social networking and other means to express their frustration and to seek temporary employment to help pay their bills and put food on the table.

Social networking site LinkedIn provided the platform for many area government workers.

“We all swore to protect the traveling public and we do that day in and day out, despite government shutdowns and being verbally abused by travelers every day,” said Jackie Kos, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) safety officer. “The problem is we are expected to continue as business as usual, however families don’t have money for gas, for food or for basic everyday necessities. Also what’s worse is our parking is paid for by TSA, so if they aren’t paying it, we have to, just in order to work … for free.”

TSA employees Phillip Plangetis, Sean M. Williams and George Small also lamented the plight of their fellow workers.

“The fact that TSA workers are not being paid is not good,” Plangetis said. “How about we privatize it so the TSA doesn’t have to depend on government funds for their paychecks?”

TSA workers must report to work because securing the nation’s airports has been deemed essential, Williams noted.

“They should be paid now and not have their checks held up,” he said. “TSA workers who call out sick create longer airport security lines, angry passengers and makes the airport less secure.”

The callouts are “affecting the morale of the team … [who] put extra time in so that the airport is still safe,” Small said.

“I ask that people be kind and sensitive during this time,” he said.

Meanwhile, the unemployment numbers have steadily increased, officials said.

“We’re certainly prepared for an influx of claims,” said William Walton, the director of unemployment insurance services at the Virginia Employment Commission. “The logical conclusion is that the longer the partial federal shutdown continues, the more claims we’re going to see.”

The trend has proven especially acute in D.C. and neighboring Maryland and Virginia, which have many federal offices and installations, according to the New York Times, which took a survey of state labor agencies that showed the shutdown has driven a mounting wave of unemployment filings across the country.

Thomas G. Bognanno, CEO of Community Health Charities, said he sent money to family members affected by the shutdown because it’s frustrating for one to miss a car payment and other bills.

Bognanno said the organization’s vice president of development also sent money to a friend who needed help with transportation costs and who couldn’t get his daughter to school.

“We’ve heard about a woman who could not afford her insulin,” Bognanno said. “We all hear stories about those affected and what’s important is to share resources that can help. We and our charity partners can help. There are a lot of people out there now living without a paycheck.

“Many federal workers are not four-star generals or congressmen and women — they don’t make that much to begin with and now are put into a position where they have no paycheck,” he said. “Our job — the job of a charity — is to help people in time of need and not just curse the darkness.”

Castillo said she is particularly peeved by those who take to social media to proclaim that the shutdown hasn’t affected them.

“Please stop posting that the government shutdown hasn’t affected you,” she said. “It affects me, more importantly my son, my co-workers and my friends. Many are working without receiving a paycheck.

“Turn down your paycheck for a month — with no end in sight — and let me know how that impacts you,” Castillo said. “Instead, show some compassion and other ways or resources to help those in need. It’s devastating to many.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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