We’re into the second week of the government shutdown, and at the time of writing, there’s no end in sight just yet.
The whole thing has come about because of the US Congress’ failure to pass a budget by October 1, fueled by differences over the Affordable Care Act. According to a poll carried out by CBS News, 72% of us disapprove of the drastic action that’s been taken, with just a quarter of us in favor. Democrats and independents, in particular, are strongly opposed to the shutdown. Republicans are split on the issue, and most Tea Party supporters approve.
There’s a feeling across the country – and especially among the 800,000 government workers sent home from their jobs last Tuesday – that the government shutdown is a futile exercise; that it’s not for anything. Obamacare will go through anyway – it’s a done deal.
Some things haven’t changed. Overall national security is unaffected, mail continues to be delivered, visa and passport applications are still being processed. But some non-essential areas of law enforcement and public safety have been halted, small business loans have stopped and, sorry, but your vacation to Yellowstone National Park is off. In fact, all national parks and other federally funded attractions are closed during shutdown.
Feeling the effect most keenly have been the 800,000 who were placed on unpaid leave, left wondering whether Congress would vote to pay them retroactively. Depending on how long the shutdown drags on, the prospect of missing out on weeks’ worth of pay has been a serious worry, and seriously frustrating. One can countenance the idea of suffering the consequences when they’re the result of one’s own actions, but the fact that this is all of Congress’s doing makes it much harder to swallow.
On Saturday, in what some saw as a surprise move, the House voted unanimously to retroactively pay the furloughed federal workers.
Before the weekend, if you’d have asked them to name the benefits of their enforced leave, they’d have been hard pressed to answer. The question mark over retroactive pay caused the most concern, and for couples in the same boat, doubly so. People have had to live frugally, and have even discussed the possibility of taking part-time work to help pay the bills. The more mouths to feed in the family, the more heightened the worry.
You might think that if you were in this situation, you’d make the most of it and enjoy your unexpected time off. In practice, that’s not how most people saw it. A lot of people have spent their days glued to the news for any developments. Even those that have taken the opportunity to try things they don’t usually have the time for – volunteering, visiting family – have found that their list also included things that require money – taking classes, buying a new phone etc… Money that they were uncomfortable parting with. Others have just been bored. Sleeping in a lot, watching a lot of TV, and hoping things will change soon.
But Saturday’s news – if it comes to fruition (the budget still has to be approved) – changes everything.
Sure, there will be no paychecks until everyone has gone back to work, so for those struggling now, there’s no respite. But knowledge that retroactive payments should be made to the majority of those 800,000 federal employees (some federal government contractors won’t be eligible) will surely give them some peace of mind. Maybe they can do some of those things they never got round to doing, before they’re called back to work.
They’ll just be hoping there’s no retroactive work to go with it. After the stress they’ve endured, maybe they deserve a paid vacation.