Federal workers gathered outside the regional EPA office Boston Friday to protest the ongoing partial government shutdown.
Some of the workers said they’re managing to get by without a paycheck for the time being. But others, like Rosa Beato, an EPA program analyst, are really feeling the pinch. “My mortgage, all my bills. Some of my life insurance I have to cancel, because I can’t afford it,” she said. Also, she says she can’t help pay for her son’s college tuition. “And my son, I mean, the school -he's not going to be able to register for school if I don’t continue paying. You know, it's really affecting my household.”
Valyria Lewis is a union rep for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents many of the furloughed workers, and used to be a TSA agent in Memphis. She says many TSA employees make about 30 to 40 thousand dollars a year. “That is not enough money, a lot of money, you know, right now,” she said. “We've been pushing for them to get an increase, but to now say to them we're not going to pay you anything and you still have to report to work. You know that's demoralizing and it's simply un-American.”
Also, Lewis says in order for those TSA workers to maintain their national security clearance, they have to meet financial suitability requirements – because if they’re in financial trouble, they might be likely to consider a bribe, which is a security risk.
“That means if their bills go delinquent, they lose their security clearance, right? If they lose their security clearance they cannot come to work.”
The lack of a paycheck is especially hard for families like Leiran Biton’s. Both he and his wife work for the federal government.
“We work for less than our counterparts in the private sector make,” he said. “We work because we care about the public. We care about the mission. And for the federal government, for the politicians, and for President Trump to treat us this way is unconscionable.”
President Trump – who is standing firm on his demand for a southern border wall – says he will sign a measure giving back pay to federal workers once the government reopens. Senator Ed Markey stood in the freezing cold with the protesting workers, and harshly criticized Trump.
“It’s a cold day when we have a president who turns a blind eye to the harm which he does to ordinary families who work hard for our country every single day,” Markey said. He said the families of 800,000 federal employees are being impacted. “Seventy-eight hundred of them working here in Massachusetts — people who dedicate their lives to serving the people of Massachusetts and the people of our country.”
EPA environmental scientist Matthew Liebman says it’s not just about their paychecks. “People don't realize that half the money that funds EPA goes right out the door to fund sewage treatment plants, water infrastructure, water treatment plants for drinking water, grants to organizations, watershed associations, things like that,” he said.
The last few weeks have not been a vacation for EPA employee Lilly Simmons. “Mostly I'm just like really anxious and depressed,” she said. “My sister also works for EPA so we're both like sitting at home twiddling their thumbs not able to do our job.”
She says work gives her a sense of purpose. “You know we spend some time at work every week - 40 hours, 50 hours a week at work, so not having that to do, it's upsetting. Produces anxiety.”
Like the others who came out on a cold day to voice their frustration, she’s hoping she can get back to work soon.
This story includes reporting by Katyln Kreie.