By BRADEN LAMMERS
About 20 workers lined up along 10th Street in Jeffersonville Tuesday afternoon because they were locked out of work.
U.S. Census Bureau workers in Jeffersonville were among the thousands of government employees that were locked out of their jobs because Congress was unable to come to an agreement on a budget for fiscal year 2014.
“We’re wanting to draw some public attention to the fact that Congress is trying to use federal employees as bargaining chips,” said Cyndi Luttrell, vice president of American Federation of Government Employees [AFGE] Local 1438, who was among those protesting outside the census bureau building in Jeffersonville.
The government shutdown, which began at midnight Tuesday, will not affect all federal agencies. Some essential services will continue to be provided while Congress works out a new budget deal. Those functions include services that are essential to national security, essential to Constitutional obligations or funded outside the normal discretionary appropriations process will continue to be funded, according to a news release from U.S. Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind.
Mandatory spending accounts for about 60 percent of all federal spending, according to the release. Discretionary spending is the money Congress authorizes and appropriates each year through the legislative process. Only discretionary spending, about 40 percent, is debated and authorized each year. The U.S. Postal Service will also continue to operate because it generates its own revenue outside the budget process.
For a lot of federal employees, the expectation was that Congress would be able to make a deal before a shutdown occurred.
“There’s always the potential [for a shutdown] but at first, I think a lot of us were under the impression they’ll do an 11th-hour agreement and it would be all good, just like it always is,” said Vickie Martin, president of Local 1438.
But no deal was reached and government offices across the country did not unlock their doors Tuesday.
At the heart of the government shut down is the fight over the mandatory funding of the Affordable Care Act, or the health care reform law, for which enrollment also opened Tuesday.
The House of Representatives passed a measure on Sept. 20 to defund the Affordable Care Act [ACA], but did pass a discretionary budget that would have kept the government operational. When the budget went to the Senate, it removed the provision that defunded the measure. The House of Representatives subsequently made an attempt to delay the ACA for one year when the budget was handed back to the legislators. But again, when it was passed along to the Senate with the one-year delay on funding the ACA, the proposal was voted down. No deal was struck and non-essential government employees have gone on unpaid furlough.
“Anytime that they have a cause that they want to go after they’re using federal employees as the pawns,” Luttrell said of Congress. “We have sacrificed enough. It’s time that they look elsewhere rather than the federal employees. We’re the ones that provide the public service that we have out there we’re the faces that the public deals with. They’re hurting us and they’re hurting the public that we serve.
“They’re (Congress) trying to mess with a law that’s already been enacted and it’s completely unrelated to setting a budget,” Luttrell added. “Their first and foremost job is to set a budget, so that they can pay their employees. And here we are, standing out here on the sidelines telling them to do their job.”
In a statement released by Young, he said “while I voted on three separate occasions to keep the government funded, a deal between the House and Senate was not reached on time. This is not the time to point fingers; instead, lawmakers from both parties should commit themselves to working together and finding real solutions. I have had several encouraging conversations with Democratic colleagues over the past 24 hours that tell me common ground is achievable, and I hope more members of the House and Senate will engage in similar efforts.”
How long the furlough will last is a concern for many of the employees that lined up outside the census bureau Tuesday.
“There’s a lot of single parents here and they can’t afford to shut down, not even for three or four days,” said Mary O’Rourke, union steward and political coordinator with Local 1438.
She added that depending on how long the shut down lasts, the concern is that people are going to find work elsewhere and a lot of them are already looking for a part-time job.
The majority of the nearly 2,000 employees that work at the bureau have been furloughed as a result of the government shutdown.
Luttrell said only handful of essential personnel — less than 10 — were still working on Tuesday.
For those not out on the picket line, O’Rourke said “a lot of them might feel like they might lose their job if they come out and voice their opinion.”
“In our furlough letters, it basically said it is not expected to last more than 30 days, but there was no guarantee of anything,” Luttrell said.
Martin and O’Rourke added that the Census Bureau does more than count the country’s population every ten years. The bureau conducts surveys and collects statistical data for other federal agencies like the Department of Transportation and Department of Agriculture, along with providing statistical data like economic indicators like unemployment figures and Gross Domestic Product information.
To get help:
Constituents in need of assistance in the ninth district should call the Washington, D.C., office at 202-225-5315, or use the contact forms on our website at toddyoung.house.gov