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A federal employee on the shutdown's financial impact, and bracing for more uncertainty

Written by Lucy Perkins/WESA | Feb 1, 2019 5:11 PM
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Dana Carl is a transportation security officer with TSA at Pittsburgh International Airport (Photo: Lucy Perkins/WESA)

Federal employees at the Transportation Security Administration who worked without pay during the partial government shutdown are getting paid again now that the government is reopen.

But workers like Dana Carl say the financial impact of the shutdown will be lasting.

"I have compartmentalized my job ... and my feelings about what all is happening," said Carl, a Transportation Security Officer at the Pittsburgh International Airport. "Because we still had to work and we were not getting paid. I took it upon myself to not bring those feelings into my job, because if I brought those feelings into my job, it [was] going to show on my face, and no passenger, no traveler, deserves that."

Carl started working for the TSA in June, just six months before the government shut down, and was one of nearly 250 TSA employees impacted in Pittsburgh. Carl said she wouldn't have gotten through the shutdown without the support of her coworkers and the encouragement she received from travelers.

"[My coworkers] would check on one another and ask, 'how are you doing?' and give you a pat on the back, or just a little hug, and say, 'we're here for you,'" she said during a free spaghetti dinner at East Liberty Presbyterian Church this week.

President Donald Trump said the government could shut down again in mid-February if Congress doesn't grant funding for his proposed border wall. That's left many federal employees, many of whom are still struggling financially from the previous shutdown, worrying about what will happen next.

"You have single moms, you have single dads, you have families, you have couples that work there - so that's a double whammy," said Carl, who currently lives with her mother, and pays for utilities, food and other household expenses.

"I had to dip into what I call my 'nuclear fund' that I've had for 10-plus years. It's not a lot, but I had to dip in - I've been unemployed and never dipped into it, but this is something different."

Government employees will start to receive back pay this week, and are slated to get paychecks at least until Feb. 15, when stopgap funding is set to expire.  

"I'm still tip-toeing along because now we have until the 15th," Carl said. "So, I don't know. Yay, we're getting a paycheck ... which means the order for the back pay was signed and approved, but are we anticipating [a second shutdown] in another month? It's kind of like being on the edge of a seesaw, and trying to balance what could happen in a couple days with what could happen in a couple weeks."  

If the government does shut down again, Carl hopes employees won't have to work without pay.

"Some of my coworkers were planning to leave and put their two weeks notice in this Saturday," Carl said. "I'm taking it one day at a time. I can't worry about what I don't know."

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