Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have missed their first paycheck of the year due to the ongoing partial government shutdown as President Donald Trump remains no closer to ending a stalemate over his border wall with Democrats.
Pay for about 800,000 government employees lapsed nearly three weeks ago, and Friday marks the first wave of missed paychecks. Operations at nine departments, including Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, have been affected.
The government shutdown began Dec. 22 and is now the second-longest ever. Because of the lapse in funding for roughly a quarter of the government, about 380,000 workers have been furloughed and sent home while 420,000 continue to work as “essential” employees but without pay. Many of the essential workers are law enforcement personnel in the Department of Homeland Security, including Border Patrol and Transportation Security Administration agents.
Many stories of federal workers anxious about paying their bills have emerged, even as thousands of employees have continued to work without any guarantee they’ll be compensated after the shutdown ends.
“Morale is, I believe, close to rock bottom, and I think things will start getting really bad if this isn’t fixed by this weekend,” a TSA officer who last received a paycheck on Dec. 28 told HuffPost’s Nick Robins-Early.
Congress would have to pass a law granting those workers backpay once the government reopens, as it has after previous shutdowns. Many workers received their last paycheck shortly before the new year and now may have to rely on savings, loans, credit or unemployment benefits to cover their bills.
The impasse is the result of Trump’s demand that Congress sign off on more than $5.7 billion for a wall along the southern border, a structure he originally said Mexico would pay for. He has not budged on his request, and Democratic leaders have refused to give in, describing the wall as wasteful and foolhardy. The White House is now flirting with declaring a national emergency in order to secure the funding.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said Trump was holding the federal government “hostage.”
“Over 200,000 employees at DHS ― charged with protecting our skies, waterways, and borders ― will also not be paid while still working,” Thompson said in a statement. “Because of the President’s childish behavior, families will face difficulties paying rent, keeping the lights on, and putting food on the dinner table. He should not be treating them like pawns in his pathetic pursuit to fulfill an absurd campaign promise.”
The White House has also felt the effects of the shutdown, with only 156 employees deemed essential out of 359.
Efforts to reopen the government have largely floundered since the start of the year, and the shutdown is on track to become the longest since the 1970s if it isn’t resolved by Saturday. The president reportedly stormed out of a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) on Wednesday after being told they would not give in to his demands, slamming his hands on a table and saying, “Bye-bye.”
The Democratic leaders have criticized the president’s behavior, equating it to a temper tantrum.
“It wasn’t even a high-stakes negotiation,” Pelosi said Wednesday. “It was a petulant president of the United States.”
Trump is getting more comfortable with the prospect of securing wall funding through a national emergency declaration. Several media reports noted the president has been eyeing billions of dollars in disaster recovery and military construction funding from the Defense Department to build the wall, and a source told The Washington Post that Trump would like to begin work on the wall within the next 45 days.
Title 10 of the U.S. Code allows the use of such unspent money in the case of a national emergency.
The president, in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity during a visit to the southern border on Thursday, said that if he can’t make a deal with Congress, he’ll “most likely” seek to declare a national emergency.
“The law is 100 percent on my side,” Trump said. “I mean we have the absolute right to declare a national emergency, and this is security stuff. This is a national emergency.”