Memphis families of federal employees brace for no pay during government shutdown

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When the partial federal government shutdown began in December, Jennifer Hoffman, the wife of a Coast Guard senior official stationed in Memphis, knew her family would get one paycheck, but that was it, as Coast Guard employees work without pay for the foreseeable future.

Due to the government shutdown, about 800,000 people who work for affected agencies are being made to work without pay or are being furloughed without pay. Some of them work in the Memphis area.

The Coast Guard is included in the Department of Homeland Security. Some other departments temporarily left without a budget are the Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Transportation, which includes the Federal Aviation Administration—another department that affects Memphis families.

“It was just a real shock to hear rumor and murmur about a shutdown possibly happening to, ‘Oh by the way, we know you were expecting a paycheck, and now you’re not getting it,'” Hoffman said.

Hoffman’s husband is a boatswain’s mate in the Coast Guard Sector Lower Mississippi River, which is located downtown. She said he has been there for a while, so they had backup finances in case a lapse in funding happened. But she said most of her husband’s coworkers live paycheck-to-paycheck and have been in Memphis for less than a year.

She said they were paid at the end of December, covering work done through that month, but that was thanks to extra funds.

Now, her husband and almost 200 employees at Sector Lower Mississippi River are working without knowing when they will be paid again. She said she has seen no indication of the shutdown ending soon. The Coast Guard shut down public operations, like social media pages.

“We watched [Donald Trump’s] Rose Garden speech and that of Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Schumer,” Hoffman said. “It’s terrifying that the POTUS would publicly announce he would be willing to continue the shutdown. To consider that that could be true is really difficult to comprehend. That could mean many federal employees losing their homes and cars.”

She said another family in the Coast Guard went to Florida during the holiday season to protect President Trump, who did not show up, opting to stay at the White House. She said those Coast Guardsmen were stuck there with their federal credit card shut off due to the shutdown.

“The consensus now is that we don’t know what we’re going to do other than contact news media,” Hoffman said. “We’ve been tweeting and emailing our congressmen and the president and vice president.” But she has not heard back from them.

One air traffic controller who works at the Memphis International Airport said he is being forced to work for free during the shutdown. In fact, all FAA employees, including about 500 in Memphis, are either working without pay or furloughed.

Jason Arnold said workers like him would be paid back once the shutdown is over. But for the ones furloughed during the shutdown, their pay depends on the actions of Congress.

There are about 20 FAA centers across the country, and he said all the FAA employees at those centers are either not being paid or furloughed during the shutdown. He said they are not told anything about when their pay will come, except for what is reported by media.

Their last paycheck was Jan. 1, and the next pay day is Jan. 15, but without an end to the shutdown, it is unlikely money will come then. Arnold said he and other controllers are hopeful an end to the shutdown will come soon.

“The controllers are very professional,” Arnold said. “They are committed to the job, committed to providing a safe flying environment for the public and committed to their government service. The frustrating part is not knowing when the next paycheck will arrive.”

There is also a deficit of controllers across the country, he said, and new people cannot be trained because they cannot be paid.

Arnold said without an end soon, some controllers may have to find a second source of income, which is not ideal, as rest is important for them to bring airplanes into the airport safely.

“Air traffic is an extremely stressful position,” said Arnold, who represents the union in Memphis. “It’s an extremely stressful position without not knowing when’s the next time I’m going to get paid. It’s extremely stressful not knowing when I can pay my childcare or my mortgage or put food on the table or even a car payment to get back and forth to work for free.”

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