Nick Vera, an administrative technician at the National Institutes for Health, has spent a lot of time resting and working on home projects since he was furloughed on Tuesday when the federal government partially shut down. The Kensington, Md., resident who is deaf also went for a bike ride during the day on Thursday to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather that has enveloped the D.C. metropolitan area in recent days.
“I enjoy working with people every day,” Vera told the Washington Blade through an interpreter during the monthly Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government (GLOBE) happy hour that took place at Cobalt in Dupont Circle on Thursday night. “I’m missing people; I’m now missing pay.”
Signs of the partial government shutdown that has left more than 800,000 federal employees furloughed abound throughout D.C.
The lesbian-owned Pizza Paradiso, which has restaurants in Dupont Circle, Georgetown and Alexandria, will offer a $2 beer special to any furloughed federal employee who shows their government identification during the shutdown. JR.’s on 17th Street, N.W., has a similar offer, while nearby Level One referenced furloughed employees in a sign outside its Dupont Circle location on Thursday that advertised $6 burgers.
The shutdown inspired a number of team names during Nellie’s weekly trivia night on Wednesday. These include “Turned-Away NIH Cancer Kids,” “Cruz Makes a Boehner Shutdown, Too” and “Obamacare Killed the Panda Porn Star.”
Ken, a furloughed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration staffer who did not give the Blade his last name, has been with the agency since 1993. He told the Blade during the Federal GLOBE happy hour that he took a long bike ride on Wednesday.
He, like Vera, has also tackled some household chores.
“That’s all I really can do,” Ken said. “We couldn’t take any work home with us and that’s really what’s left for me to do.”
Dennis Palaganis, a D.C. resident who has been a software engineer at the Department of Homeland Security since May, has also done errands he’s “ignored for a long time” since he was furloughed on Tuesday. He told the Blade he has also reconnected with people and spent a lot of time on Facebook since the partial government shutdown.
“It wasn’t really something I had prepared for,” Palaganis said during the Federal GLOBE happy hour. “I didn’t have a bucket list of things that I wanted to do—oh in case of shutdown do these things. I’m just kind of playing it by ear.”
The furloughed federal employees with whom the Blade spoke on Thursday all blamed Congress – and Tea Party Republicans in particular – for the partial government shutdown.
“Their style of government is not geared toward compromise,” Palaganis said, referring to their efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare that took effect on Tuesday. “They’re basically holding the federal workers and contractors hostage.”
Federal GLOBE President Len Hirsch, who has worked for the Smithsonian for 24 years and is currently furloughed, said members of Congress whom he described as “jerks” are “playing games with the” U.S. economy and its ability to help people around the world. He also lamented the impact the shutdown will have on police officers, security guards, cafeteria workers, gift shop clerks and others with less financial means than he.
“They’re being made to pay an awful price for the egos of a bunch of our senators and Congress people,” Hirsch told the Blade. “That’s just not right.”
Furloughed employees with whom the Blade spoke were not optimistic they would return to work in the coming days or even weeks.
“I think it’s going to go on for a little while,” said Mark Lerro, a Capitol Hill resident who has worked with the Transportation Security Agency for five years.
Observers have begun to note it is possible President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other congressional leaders could reach a deal to fund the federal government around the Oct. 17 debt ceiling deadline.
Vera told the Blade he is “hopeful” as he discussed the meeting between Obama, Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that took place at the White House on Wednesday. He added, however, he feels it is “really hard to predict” when he and other furloughed federal employees will return to work.
“Both parties and the president really have to come together,” Vera said. “I’m going to wait and see.”