WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Deepan Patel was one of a number of U.S. government workers waiting in line for a meal on Friday at celebrity chef Jose Andres’ “Chefs for Feds” emergency kitchen, when he heard President Donald Trump had agreed to end a 35-day-old partial government shutdown.
Like many of the 800,000 furloughed workers across America, Patel, who works for the Internal Revenue Service, expressed both relief and uncertainty about whether the three-week agreement to fund the government would last beyond Feb. 15.
“I think it’s a big help, especially to get that back pay, get those paychecks,” Patel said. “And hopefully they make a deal before it shuts down again.”
The stop-gap funding agreement sets up tough talks between the president and lawmakers about how to address security along the U.S.-Mexican border, with Democrats appearing unyielding in their opposition to Trump’s desire to build a wall, a central promise of the Republican’s 2016 election campaign.
Dulce Hernandez, 37, an officer with the union representing IRS agents in Spring Valley, California, said her phone often rang at night from distraught employees worried about how to pay their bills.
“I’m hoping they get their ducks in a row and figure this out, because we can’t go through this again,” she said. “The level of stress. I wasn’t sleeping.”
Friday would have been the second payday missed for those affected by the partial shutdown. The deal includes back pay, which Trump said they would receive soon.
“I feel trapped and forgotten,” said Monte Engler, 50, a union representative for the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union who lives in Gurnee, Illinois.
“I don’t feel good about working for the federal government at all, but I have over 30 years in so what am I going to do,” said Engler, a diabetic, who signed up for food stamps, borrowed money from family members to pay for gas to get to work and went to a food bank to feed his family.
“If you are flying in an airplane and we are not there, you’re in danger,” said Engler, who was required to work during the shutdown maintaining air traffic control equipment at O’Hare International Airport. “The whole situation is terrible and I am sure it is going to happen again.”
Since 1976, there have been 10 federal government shutdowns that led to furloughs, but the one that began on Dec. 22 was the longest.
Racheal Abraham, 53, who has been working without pay as a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer at Washington’s Reagan National Airport, looked forward to some temporary relief at least.
“It gives the federal employees a bit of relief for a few weeks before their stress levels go up again. We can’t continue to be thrown back and forth between being paid and having to wait to be paid, our lives depend on these paychecks.”
A spike in absences of TSA officers during the shutdown had led to closed checkpoints and long lines at some of the busiest airports in the United States.
Carole Sneed, who works for the General Service Administration, was also in line awaiting a meal at Jose Andres’ emergency kitchen on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House - the two focal points of the shutdown debate.
“I just hope that they are really going to come up with a real agreement so we can just go on with our lives,” Sneed said.
Reporting by Katharine Jackson and Temis Tormo in Washington, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; writing by Bill Tarrant; editing by Grant McCool