The government shutdown hits some harder than others 

  • Jeanne Agri, CEO of CAP in Concord, is worried about the long-term effects the shutdown has on her agency. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 1/12/2019 9:11:29 PM

Friday was payday for Transportation Security Administration employees still working to keep airports safe.

They weren’t paid.

Friday was also another day in which poverty-stricken parents needed help to feed their children.

Those kids ate. The future of those programs, however, is unclear.

And then there’s many of you, our dear readers, who will never get a taste of what’s going on in Washington, where a government shutdown, in its 23rd day, is now the longest such work stoppage and roadblock to paying federal employees in U.S. history.

If the shutdown continues – and President Trump, demanding money to build a wall on our southern border to curb illegal immigration, has said he’ll wait months, perhaps years if need be – the hard-luck stories will surface more and more, fueling the nation’s frustration with government, politics, and the harsh reality that comes with divisiveness.

The good news is 95 percent of the government remains open, but that still leaves 800,000 federal employees to wonder when they’ll get paid again. One is Dave Boucher of Suncook, a central figure in this mess.

He’s a TSA agent and doubles as the regional vice president of the Association of Federal Government Employees. He represents members of TSA-NH, and he stood with Rep. Chris Pappas, Democrat from Manchester, Friday at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

Boucher’s role as union leader meant he had to steer clear of mentioning Trump by name and pointing fingers at the president. But that didn’t stop him from telling me by phone before the press conference what the shutdown means to him and others.

“Today is payday, so the effect will come this weekend when I look at my bills and schedule when I’m mailing our checks out,” Boucher said. “That will affect who gets money and who does not.”

Boucher’s experience level and the fact that his wife works give him an edge over some of his younger colleagues.

“It’s not as bad for me,” he said. “We have dual paychecks, but this is a workforce with single parents and younger people who are single and rely completely on that income.”

Boucher cited a couple, a husband and wife, both of whom work for the TSA. That means nothing came in on Friday, from him or from her.

Elsewhere Friday, Pappas flew in from Washington to attend the airport press conference, after voting to pass a bill that would guarantee back pay to those affected by the shutdown. That includes non-essential workers, who are on furlough, and officials like Boucher, who have been working for nothing for more than three weeks.

Pappas was eager to get his message out, the one opposing the wall promised by Trump, who continues to hold out for $5.7 billion to pay for it.

“Manpower and technology seem to be a much better investment,” Pappas said. “It’s a better idea than the idea the president is pushing. There’s no reason we hold food stamps and the Department of Agriculture hostage.”

Republicans and Democrats continue to point fingers at each other from across the aisle, accepting no blame, casting the other side as the villain, responsible for the plight of people under the watch of officials like Jeanne Agri.

She’s the chief executive officer for the local chapter of the Community Action Program. She’s in charge of the head start/early head start program, which, through reimbursements from the Department of Agriculture, supplies meals to children from six weeks to five years old.

These are children who need help more than any others.

“These are the extremely vulnerable, the highest at-risk children from 100 percent poverty income,” Agri said. “They need so much, and now you take away something because the people in government can’t communicate. That is tragic to me. It’s your neighbor.”

Agri’s organization and other local charitable food programs, like the Child Nutrition Program run by the Concord School District Food Services Department, got good news Friday.

A letter from the New Hampshire Department of Education said the USDA will continue to fund claims through the end of March, not the end of February, as was previously the case. To people like Agri, anything positive is welcome these days.

“At this point we will take anything,” Agri said. “Once we don’t have it we’ll have to explore what that means for our program. Our kids and families really depend on this food program, and the end of March will give a moment to pause and say we have more time to plan in the event (the shutdown) should continue.”

It’s gone on for a record time, long enough for places like Concord Craft Brewing to offer a dollar off poured beers for anyone with a federal ID. I’m sure our elected leaders don’t want to hear the toast that may accompany that deal.

Now, the country waits for the two sides to shake hands, or at least nod to each other and remember what’s happening to segments of the country.

Not everyone feels it. In fact, it amounts to a very small percentage, and reimbursements for food for poor children was just extended another month.

But for people like Agri, that’s little consolation.

“I think I’m comfortable saying that this is sad,” she said. “Our children are bearing the brunt of this lack of communication. It’s terrible that a child in our classroom is the one at risk.”


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