Federal employees and contractors began returning to their government jobs Thursday, as the partial federal shutdown — and the two-week long furloughs it forced — officially came to an end.
The shutdown, some said, had tried their patience, their resolve, their coupon-cutting skills. Its end, they said, was welcome.
“It was an eye-opener, because I’ve never been furloughed before and I didn’t know what to expect,” said Danielle Johnson, 41, of Baltimore, who has worked for the Department of Veteran Affairs for the past 7 years. “It’s hard because you don’t know what you can do. You can’t go get another job. It’s just waiting.”
Richard D’Anna, a senior adviser at the Securities and Exchange Commission who lives in Freeland, Md., said the deal Congress struck to end the shutdown and lift the debt ceiling late Wednesday meant relief for him too, even though he was never furloughed.
“Funding would have run out this week,” he said. “This came just in time.”
Scott Sherlock, 54, an Environmental Protection Agency attorney who lives in Long Green, Md., said the shutdown was “a source of great consternation,” but he was happy to be going back to work.
Sherlock remembers being a young father in the 1990s and quitting his job at a private firm, where he was on track to become a partner, to join the EPA. Shortly after, he was furloughed under previous government shutdown, he said.
“I was like, ‘What have I got myself into?’ ” he remembers thinking. He had 4-year-old twins at the time, had already made child-care decisions that restricted his family’s earning potential, and was “terrified,” he said.
He applied for other jobs and got one, but ended up staying at the EPA — a decision he doesn’t regret.
While furloughs are tough, especially on younger parents, they remain “unusual,” he said, and the federal government is still a great place to work.
Park rangers at Fort McHenry in Maryland were elated to return to work. During the shutdown, the park was run by a skeletal staff of law enforcement rangers and a few maintenance workers, who were not paid for their labor at the time.
“It’s like Christmas morning coming back,” said Vince Vaise, chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry, with a wide smile on his face.
Vaise, a 43-year-old Linthicum, Md., resident, relied on savings to support his family, which includes two young children.
“It’s nice not to have to worry so much anymore,” he said.
Tina Orcutt, superintendent at the park, felt the impact of the shutdown pretty quickly. Without paychecks, she had to rein in her spending, particularly on food.
“I also had to figure out which bills I can pay now, which ones I can put on hold,” said Orcutt, a 43-year-old Woodstock, Md., resident.
A mother of three, Orcutt spent the time away from work doting on her kids and “glued to the news obsessively.”
“It was great to be able to do the stay-at-home mom thing, but there was the anxiety of when I’m going to get paid again,” she said.
Federal employees will receive back pay for time missed, and as part of the deal worked out Wednesday will also receive a 1 percent raise beginning next year, according to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
Unlike the federal employees, however, Himelstein said she and many other federal contractors won’t receive back pay, and it will take several paychecks before her family is back to being whole.
“Hopefully we’ll regroup,” she said. “The cost to the taxpayer, the cost to this country in terms of lost time, lost resources, is incalculable.”
Source: MCT Information Services