While Centre County was hit with a big snow storm this past weekend, about 20 employees of the National Weather Service had to be at work — many working overtime — even though they are unsure when their next paycheck will come.
The frustration is building for John LaCorte, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, speaking as a member of the employee union. He and his fellow employees at the National Weather Service in State College have been working for more than a month now without receiving a paycheck because of the government shutdown. LaCorte said they are left feeling frustrated and angry.
“I look at the paper every day thinking that this can’t go on forever, but nothing changes,” said LaCorte. “It leaves me feeling powerless and angry because we are being used as pawns in this political game.”
LaCorte said that for some, the situation is getting dire because they may be running out of savings and have bills that need to be paid. Some employees may have no savings at all.
They are part of the approximately 420,000 essential government employees who are required to work during the partial shutdown, without pay. The promise is they will get paid for their work eventually when the shutdown ends, but when there are legal obligations for car payments, mortgages and other financial obligations, while still making sure that you and your family can eat, LaCorte said the stress can be difficult to manage.
LaCorte said there is no all-encompassing help for the workers and it’s left up to each individual to speak with their financial institutions regarding their situations. Banks, utility companies and lenders have no obligation to be lenient when it comes to bill payment. LaCorte said that he thinks it’s “not right” that while he and his fellow employees have legal obligations to pay bills, the federal government is able to allow them to work without a regular paycheck.
He said that federal workers like himself have no say in the outcome of the shutdown, so he doesn’t understand why their livelihood is affected. He said that if politicians really want to use a shutdown as a political tool, they should have an actual shutdown where people don’t show up to work if they are not getting paid.
The National Weather Service operates the equipment that allows private weather news outlets to track and predict the forecast. LaCorte said employees continue to work hard to provide that information as the shutdown goes on, but the burden is heavy.
The current shutdown is only a partial one, as Congress has already funded 75 percent of the federal government until September. It is the longest government shutdown on record. The previous longest shutdown ended after 21 days in January 1995, during President Clinton’s first term.
Many non-essential government employees have been furloughed. Each federal agency has its own contingency plan in the case of a shutdown, meaning they are all affected in slightly different ways. Every agency determines which employees are “essential” and “nonessential” — “essential” employees must keep reporting to work even though they won’t receive immediate pay, while “nonessential” employees are furloughed and told to stay home until the shutdown ends.
Of the approximately 800,000 government workers affected, there are approximately 380,000 furloughed government employees nationwide. While furloughed employees do not get paid, they can apply for unemployment, which will pay for part of their wages.
Employees that are working without an immediate paycheck cannot apply for unemployment because they are technically “still working.” LaCorte said people don’t understand what is going on and sometimes ask, “Why don’t they just look for different jobs?”
He said it is not that simple when you have a career and a job that you find to be fulfilling. So, they continue to work, although they are unsure when they will get paid and if enough political pressure is mounting for things to change.