Our family was held hostage by the recent shutdown of the federal government because our son is a federal employee.
We were so proud of him when he was hired as a research scientist at a federal agency, and even though he had to relocate to a faraway state, we thought it was worth it to have him get a job with a decent salary, health care benefits and a pension, something difficult to find in today’s employment world.
We also were encouraged by the mission of his work: to help protect the environment. But after 5 weeks of the shutdown (the longest in history and the third since he was hired), our thoughts about his job began to shift. We questioned the stability of government employment. Luckily, the shutdown ended on Jan. 25, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Still, we will long remember what those five weeks felt like.
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Every day I read the news and was glued to the TV, hoping that the resolution would come soon. I worried about our son’s finances, how he would pay his mortgage, car payment, credit card and food costs. I felt frozen and continuously distracted.
As time went on, I grew angry. I believed that he and other federal employees were being bullied, but this bully wasn’t some middle school kid. I heard about other federal employees who were suffering, especially those with dependents. Some were even losing their housing! I worried for them and was grateful that our son didn’t have dependents and had enough savings to cover costs for a while.
It seemed even more unfair to those employees who had to continue working without pay. Maybe our leaders should have gone without pay, too!
I remember back in the 1980’s when Ronald Reagan spread the idea that we should fear the words, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
That’s because he was an advocate for smaller government. Shrinking the government has been the clarion call of certain politicians for decades, and it looked to me as if this latest shutdown could be another step closer to fulfilling their wishes.
I’m of a different mind. I’ve always valued what our government does to protect us, and I’m hoping that the shutdown has awakened the American people to how much we need government.
Federal agencies monitor our air quality, our water purity and our food safety. They give subsidies to farmers so they can plant their crops. They inspect cars for safety and emissions. They monitor our interstate highways. They care for our national parks and other precious institutions like the Smithsonian. They assist areas hit by natural disasters. They oversee our relationships with other governments around the world. Air traffic controllers insure safe air travel, as do TSA screeners. Our seas are monitored by the Coast Guard. These are just a few of the many services government provides.
So now the plan is to give back pay to furloughed employees, but not contractors (another unfair policy) and to open the government until Feb. 15. During that time Congress is supposed to work out a plan and solve disagreements about how to deal with issues on our southern border, all with the understanding that the executive branch has to agree. If not, we could be facing more national turmoil.
Now all of America, including us, our son, 800,000 employees and their loved ones will be watching to see what happens next. Our leaders must find a way to keep the government running and never hold good people hostage by using this bruising tactic again.