‘Dire situation’: Those working without pay burdened by shutdown

Feeling the pinch of no pay during shutdown

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - As the federal government shutdown is set to begin its fifth week, many furloughed employees are finding the impacts go well beyond a missing paycheck.

With more bills to pay and money running out, some federal workers in our area are also finding out they are not eligible for government assistance.

Joseph Allen, who works as a correctional officer teaching inmates in Petersburg, sent a series of letters to creditors explaining why he may not make his future monthly bills.

“The lights are on, the heat is on, I didn’t get evicted or anything, and I’m still paying my monthly bills," Allen said. “But at some point you’re going to reach a breaking point and you’re going to have to face reality.”

Allen is a classified as an essential employee, so even though he’s not receiving a paycheck, he still has to report to work just the same.

“It’s stressful not getting a paycheck,” Allen said.

An additional burden on workers like Allen is that they are not eligible for government assistance, such as unemployment, that is available to the non-essential furloughed workers.

“The public needs to know that as essential employees, we are in a dire situation,” Omarh Rahja, a union liaison, said.

Rajah works as a go-between for the federal government and labor unions at the state level. He is also considered essential and is working his normal schedule without pay.

“Essential employees cannot - I repeat cannot - receive unemployment benefits,” Rajah said.

It’s all because of a 2013 memo that says federal employees who are required to work even without pay are generally not eligible for unemployment benefits. That same 2013 memo also requires that essential employees get permission from the federal government before they seek another job, putting another legal hurdle in their way.

“I have to get a waiver from the government allowing me to work additional job based upon the job I’m doing now,” Rajah said.

To make matters worse, if the shutdown continues, missing paychecks will continue to compound every week because pay is introduced a week before the paycheck arrives.

“If pay doesn’t go in by (Friday), you’re guaranteed you’re going to miss your next pay period,” Rajah said.

But Rajah says he’s working with Gov. Ralph Northam on a solution that could temporarily provide relief to thousands of essential Virginian workers in hot water.

“One of the things we’re trying to do for essential employees is have the governor sign an executive order to ease that burden to allow for essential employees to at lease apply for unemployment,” Rajah said.

While those talks take place, only one thing will ease workers like Allen’s mind.

“I want it to end,” Allen said.

In the meantime, several businesses in the Richmond area are doing what they can to help ease the pain.

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