COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - We’re now 33 days into the longest government shutdown in history and thousands of federal workers across the country continue to work without pay. Many are feeling the effects of the shutdown right here in the Midlands.
WIS-TV spoke with two families – with two completely different jobs – who are now facing very similar hardships because of the ongoing government shutdown. Both say they have no choice but to continue showing up for work.
Dawn Roberts lives in Newberry. She’s the granddaughter, daughter, and now mother of men who have served in the military. Her 28-year-old son, Michael, is in the Coast Guard stationed in Michigan. He’s been serving for eight years now and has seen his fair share of shutdowns, but his mom tells me this is the first time he’s ever gone without pay. The husband and father of three just purchased his first home last year.
“Now, he’s faced with having to make a mortgage payment, having to keep the heat on to keep his family warm, having to keep food on the table, gas in the vehicle so he can go back-and-forth to work because he still has to report to work during this shutdown,” Roberts said.
His mom says because Michael is a member of the Coast Guard, getting a second job is not a realistic option.
“Some of these men and women cannot go out and get a second job because they are on a ship. My son could be called up at any time to do what they call an SRA, Search and Rescue. So, if he’s called up to an SRA, if he’s supposed to report to another job, he can’t do that. His first and foremost is to the Coast Guard,” Roberts said.
The local vice president of a Union 0510, Talmadge Coleman, says he works with both union and non-union employees of all different professions, including hundreds of workers at correctional facilities across the state. Coleman says these are also an example of government employees who are not being paid, but there are consequences if they don’t show up to work.
“We’re going to work every day for free. We can’t stay home. We’re not furloughed. We’re called essential employees. So, we have to go to work. If we don’t go to work, we could face disciplinary action and we’re just asking for the Congress and the president to get their little act together because we feel like we’re being used as a pawn in the game. Congress sets our pay. They’re still getting paid,” Coleman said.
With federal workers now facing their second paychecks with a balance of zero, WIS-TV is learning the lengths some are having to go just to survive without pay.
Coleman says several prison staff members have a long commute to work and are now having to sleep at work, just to make sure they can make it to their next shift.
Coleman provided video of the makeshift bedrooms that have been setup inside one prison for employees who can’t afford to make the drive back-and-forth. For one correctional facility in Edgefield, some employees reportedly have as much as a two-hour roundtrip drive. They’re typically given vouchers for their commute, but those are unavailable because of the government shutdown.
As essential employees, they still have to be at work, and could face disciplinary action for not showing up, which is why some are having to stay overnight.
Coleman says, now, on top of not getting paid, “We have to drive to work now. So, if you’re not able to go and go back-and-forth, you have to stay at work. You have to make the sacrifice – I’m going to go home, or I’m going to stay at work. They’re getting behind on their bills. They’re taking out loans, credit card debt. They’re going into their retirement savings.”
Many government workers are now having to rely on loans and food banks to keep their families fed during the shutdown.
The Brookland Foundation is now accepting donations to support federal workers going without pay. All donations can be made on their website here.