Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass. 7) joins furloughed employees protesting at the White House on Jan. 10. (Michael A. McCoy/The Washington Informer)
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass. 7) joins furloughed employees protesting at the White House on Jan. 10. (Michael A. McCoy/The Washington Informer)

The current partial government shutdown, the longest in the nation’s history, has called into question the notion that employment at a federal agency provides long-term financial stability.

Meanwhile, furloughed workers, soon entering their fourth week without pay, continue to scramble to find alternate means to pay escalating overdue bills.

But even some of those options may prove fruitless, as one U.S. Department of Agriculture employee, identified here as Woolfolk, said she came to realize.

“The reality that this might be problematic for me and a lot of people really hit home last week when I filed for unemployment,” said Woolfolk who’s been in her current job for the past six year.

“I was informed that wages haven’t been paid so folks in the federal government had to prove they’ve been working. That shows the government hasn’t paid its employment taxes. It’s public knowledge that we don’t have income. A lot of creditors haven’t been great at making concessions. It doesn’t matter if you have good credit,” she said.

Woolfolk, a cancer survivor with limited mobility and depleted savings, has been unable to meet her financial obligations, submitting a partial January mortgage payment made possible with a contribution from her church.

Since the furlough started on Dec. 22, she has written letters about her situation, attaching a special form identifying her as a federal government employee, to utility companies, creditors and her mortgage lender. Some, like her utilities provider, have yet to reply – others, including owners of a storage warehouse, have rejected her pleas for leniency.

In anticipation of similar situations unfolding across the District, the Office of the People’s Counsel sent a letter to Pepco and other D.C. utility companies last week asking for a moratorium on disconnections and assistance for federal worker struggling to pay bills.

In a public statement, the People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye described utilities as a matter of public well-being, recommending that the desired hold be placed on affected customers’ accounts until they receive their first post-furlough paycheck.

On their own initiative, Pepco has spent much of the month reminding customers of its Low-Income Energy Assistance Program that provides grants through the Department of Energy and the Environment and the Maryland Department of Human Services.

City government and local food providers have also stepped forward to fill in the gap. On Jan. 12, the Department of Parks & Recreation provided free lunch to children at eight locations throughout the District. Capital Area Food Bank and Bread for the City, along with other organizations, have passed out groceries and free meals to both government workers and employees of industries dependent on daily government activities and the revenue that’s generated.

As of Jan. 11, the shutdown has drained more than $3.6 billion from the U.S. economy, according to a report from S&P. The Internal Revenue Service warns of a delay in tax refunds this year. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has announced a suspension in food inspections while 36 million Americans stand a chance of losing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by March.

On Tuesday, as furloughed government employee Dee Wyatt continued searching for steady work though a temp agency, rank-and-file Democrats rejected Trump’s invitation to a meeting at the White House about the 2019 fiscal year budget.

Wyatt, who started her stint as a contract worker at a local federal agency months before Trump won the election, said she has focused on making do with what little she has. Instead of Lyft and Uber, she rides Metro. With her January bills paid in full, she’s decided to cut back on gym memberships and other luxuries.

In less than a month, she’s taken a glimpse into how others, on whose path she currently walks, have navigated life with few resources.

“My cousin worked at Department of Human Services and talked me into coming up there for an EBT card,” Wyatt said. “After that first week, I didn’t realize I was then eligible for food stamps. The lady who took care of me could tell it was my first time and gave me the ins and outs. That helped a lot.”

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Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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