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Border wall fight hits home as payday arrives with no check. Bills, though, keep coming

Local federal workers face going without a paycheck

Hear from federal employees who are going without paycheck because the government shutdown. They are attending a financial services fair for affected employees at SeaTac Airport.
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Hear from federal employees who are going without paycheck because the government shutdown. They are attending a financial services fair for affected employees at SeaTac Airport.

Roger Smith, an officer with the Transportation Security Administration, figures he’ll get shafted come Monday.

Normally, that would be his pay day, but the partial shutdown of the federal government means he and 2,000 other federal workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are working without pay.

On Friday, he was attending a resources fair at the airport sponsored by the Port of Seattle. He was preparing for the coming shortfall.

“That’s why I’m here today,” he said. “Should that happen, and I’m anticipating that it’s going to, that I have a means to pay my bills.”

Smith, 58, wouldn’t answer when asked if he felt he was getting support from the federal government during the shutdown.

“I think we better leave that one alone,” he said.

The Maple Valley resident has worked 16 years for the TSA.

Sea-Tac workers affected by the shutdown are mostly from three agencies, said Perry Cooper, airport spokesman. Those are: Transportation Security Administration (TSA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Friday marked what would have been the first payday for many of the workers since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

Smith was wearing his blue TSA uniform. He said he would keep working, even without pay.

“I’m here to earn a paycheck and pay my bills,” Smith said. “But it goes beyond that. We’re here also for the safety of the public.

“For me, personally, that doesn’t give me the option of coming to work or not. I’ve still got to be here for them.”

Another fair attendee, CBP employee Francisco Juarez, said he could survive without one or two paychecks.

“But after that, we’re going to have some problems,” he said.

Juarez, 50, wouldn’t say exactly what he does for the CBP except that it has something to do with law enforcement.

The 23-year employee of the CBP took a break from work to visit the resource fair on Friday.

Like a lot of the federal employees at the fair, Juarez was gathering information for himself and his co-workers.

“The biggest worry I have is how it’s going to affect my credit,” Juarez said. “I worked so many years to have excellent credit, not miss any payments.”

He still has kids at home.

“This impacts everyone,” Juarez said. “It impacts everyone who lives in my home. This has a snowballing effect.”

While financial lenders at the resource fair were willing to give the SeaTac resident a loan, it would mean leaving his current banking institution.

“I don’t know how long this is going to go,” Juarez said. “It might end tomorrow. It might end in 30, 60, 90 days.”

He hopes his bank will lend him money.

“This is changing on a daily basis,” Juarez said.

He’s already working on getting his student loan payments deferred.

EASING BURDENS

The fair was the idea of the Port of Seattle, said commissioner Fred Fellman. It was proposed during an executive session.

“How much can we do as a public agency without it being a gift of public funds?” he said.

The lack of support from the federal government was giving workers a psychological burden as well as a financial one, Fellman said.

“A lot of these are ex-military people,” he said. “They get up in the morning because they have a sense of purpose. They are being told by the federal government, you’re not essential. That cuts deep.”

The fair, Felleman said, sends the message that what they do is essential.

“I think people need to know that,” he said.

The fair will be repeated on Monday and then moved to the marine port to help workers there.

Representatives from utilities and financial institutions were on hand, including Puget Sound Energy and Boeing Employees Credit Union.

Sara Seelmeyer, a Seattle-based United Way program coordinator, was helping people understand government programs they had never used before or thought they would never need.

Those included eviction prevention and accessing SNAP (food stamps) and Orca Lift for transportation.

“They are eligible for those programs during the shutdown and that applying for them — even though it can seem like a scary process — we can walk them through that process,” Seelmeyer said.

“A lot of folks here today are really feeling stressed out and trying to figure out what the next steps are,” she said.

BORDER IMPASSE

The government shutdown is over border security. President Donald Trump wants $5.7 billion in federal funds to build a barrier on the southern border, and Democrats don’t want to give it to him, citing his past assurances that Mexico would pay for it.

Juarez spent 14 years as a U.S. border patrol agent on the U.S.-Mexican border.

“There’s always been a need for border security,” Juarez said.

Regarding the border impasse, Juarez straddled the fence.

“I understand what we need down there,” he said.

Walls and fences are important to keep people out of areas and people safe, Juarez said. Sea-Tac Airport has miles of fencing around it, he noted.

He said barriers in urban areas and near border crossings on the southern border are the most effective.

“You’ve seen a reduction in crime, you’ve seen a reduction in trafficking, you’ve seen a reduction in people just coming across the border,” he said.

But, he added, a barrier along the entire 1,954-mile-long border isn’t needed.

“You can’t wall off the entire border,” he said. “That’s the problem with a lot of our politicians. They don’t truly know what’s going on down there on the southern border.”

Smith was less diplomatic.

“(Politicians) disguise things as looking out for the public,” Smith said. “I’m not saying there’s not issues, by no means. But I don’t feel this is the way to go about it.”

The impact on federal workers and their families is too much of a burden, he said.

“You are affecting people’s ability to provide for their families,” Smith said.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.

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