Town hall meeting with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton
Town hall meeting with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton Credit: Cuneyt Dil

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The federal government may be fully opened—at least for the next three weeks—but the stories of hardship will remain. The financial stress won’t resolve itself for thousands of people. And the District is currently stuck trying to clean up the mess left behind.

D.C. will seek reimbursement for local money spent to cover federal programs, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office said in a statement on Monday evening. “As this shutdown comes to a temporary end, we want to thank every member of our community who stepped up to for the more than 140,000 federal workers and contractors in the region who have been locked out their jobs for 35 days,” Bowser’s office says.

Congressional Democrats including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton are pushing a bill to give back pay for federal contract workers. She will rally today with members of 32BJ SEIU, which represents more than 600 janitors and security officers who were furloughed.  

“Although the Trump shutdown is over, for now, thousands of low-wage federal contract workers cannot make up for its consequences after going more than a month without pay,” Norton said in a release on Monday.

The District will still process applications made last week for a zero-interest loan program that was announced to help federal workers pay their mortgages, deputy press secretary Susana Castillo says. The Bowser administration has yet to determine whether to continue the program in the short term. Bowser will give an update on the local impact of the shutdown at a breakfast with the D.C. Council Tuesday morning, Castillo adds.

At a town hall last Thursday night hosted by Norton, furloughed worker Eric Mueller, said his savings have been “depleted.” Another man said he knows a colleague who has skipped purchasing diabetes medicine in order to pay bills. Monica Lewis said she’s not used to seeking help from a food bank. In the past she has volunteered for Martha’s Table and Bread for the City. “Am I infringing on the homeless, people who really depend on this food?” she asked. “And I go into guilt.”

“I here come before to you as a citizen of a democracy that is flailing,” Andrew Zimdahl said at the town hall. A small business owner in Ward 4, Zimdahl noted that the downstream effects of the shutdown have hurt many non-federal employees as well.

Jay Brown told the crowd that the shutdown even claimed a life. He said that one homeless man who “survived off the generosity of the federal government employees” died outside the Federal Trade Commission building last Wednesday morning.

Donald Trump, this man’s death is on you,” he said. 

The Metropolitan Police Department confirmed a death, and said a full report would be released soon. Brown shot pictures of the scene that morning, which he happened upon on his way to an event at a courthouse. While the medical examiner cordoned off the area where the man had died, a block down a line of furloughed workers stretched around the corner for chef José Andrés’ food pantry.

“These are people standing in line normally who would be providing for this individual,” Brown said.

Four homeless people at or near 600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW on Sunday said they did not know about the man who died. But Fathalrahman Mohamed, who was laying on the sidewalk outside the Newseum, also agreed the shutdown had affected him.

“Some people help me by donating, some people help me buy food,” he said. But he noted receiving less help over the past month. “This time I have an excuse for them, because of the government shutdown.”

“Maybe cause people don’t have money,” he added.

At the townhall, John Boardman of Unite Here Local 25, which represents workers in the hotel and hospitality industry, said he had heard about cancelled hotel conferences due to agencies being closed. That, in turn, has meant no work for many housekeepers, cooks, servers, and bartenders.

“Our workers are out of work and will never recover that money,” he said.

“I really do love my job,” Deborah Daniels started out telling Norton and the panel that included Boardman and other labor leaders. “This has impacted me so much that I have been counting pennies in my house, because I’m two weeks from making my last mortgage payment.”

At the event, Norton announced she was not taking a paycheck during the shutdown in “solidarity” with workers.

Mueller said that as a federal transportation worker, his options for side jobs were limited: He couldn’t work for Uber, for example, because his agency investigates the company. Meanwhile, federal oversight work has been halted in some cases.

“We have, since the shutdown, 87 accidents that have not been investigated,” he said. “That’s just not getting done.”

Norton also noted the shutdown impeded the ability of Congress to oversee agencies. “For example, important meetings with agencies; they can’t meet without violating the shutdown, because it takes money to meet,” she said.

David Murphy said he was already on workers compensation as a federal employee before the shutdown began. In Ward 7 where he lives, he said he was noticing economic anxiety combining with fears over the spiking homicide rate in D.C. “There’s a lot of people who don’t have the option of walking into a bank and asking for a forbearance that are going to be affected by this shut down in the near future,” he said.

“There’s largely an air of desperation in my neighborhood.”