Federal shutdown hits home By Ed Palattella / ed.palattella@timesnews.com and Jim Martin / jim.martin@timesnews.com

Erie Times-News |

WEB STORY

As the partial government shutdown reached its third week, federal workers at Erie International Airport and elsewhere throughout the region stayed on the job but without pay.

Traveler Lennie Friedman said he sympathizes with the Transportation Security Administration workers at the airport who are still screening bags and passengers despite not getting paychecks.

"I think it would be hard to come to work and do your best job knowing you're not getting paid," said Friedman, 42, who was in Erie on a business trip and boarded a flight to Philadelphia on Thursday evening. "And they're supposed to be ensuring that our flights are safe."

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers nationwide started to miss their first 2019 paychecks on Friday, the same day the partial shutdown tied the record for the longest break in funding for the federal government in the nation's history. Others will start missing paychecks early next week.

About 800,000 federal workers have either been furloughed or, because they are deemed to work in essential jobs, such as at the TSA, are working without pay. About a quarter of the government is closed due to a lack of appropriations.

As the showdown over the shutdown drags on in Washington, D.C., the effects of the prolonged lapse in funding - which centers on President Donald Trump's demand to build a wall along the Mexican border - continue to filter down to Erie County, which has 1,600 federal workers, according to the state Department of Labor & Industry.

The total number of the Erie County federal employees who are furloughed or working without pay was not available on Friday.

But the shutdown has undoubtedly altered the operations of federal agencies, and altered the bank accounts of many federal employees, throughout the county, from the U.S. Coast Guard station on Presque Isle State Park to the U.S. District Courthouse on Perry Square.

The United Way of Erie of Erie County announced Friday that it's making an effort to reach out to some of those unpaid workers, both here and throughout northwestern Pennsylvania.

Joelyn Bush, a spokeswoman for the United Way, said the organization is offering the services of its 211 phone line, a free confidential referral service that connects people to specialists that can help them find health and human services.

A variety of different services might be available, depending on the situation, Bush said.

"One of the things is you might be able to to do is make sure your rent payment is made," she said. "That could be an example."

As of about , the 211 call center in Venango County, which serves 13 counties in northwestern Pennsylvania, had not yet reserved any calls from people who identified themselves as federal employees.

"We have not received any contacts yet, but are poised and ready to do so," said Josh C. Jaeger, the database coordinator, said in an email. "There are resources available and 211 is ready 24X7 to help."

• The shutdown doesn't affect the Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center and its satellite medical offices. Previous federal spending bills funded the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"(The) VA is fully funded for Fiscal Year 2019 which means the government shutdown does not impact us," Erie VAMC spokeswoman Sarah Gudgeon said in an email. "(The) VA remains open and fully operational."

• The Coast Guard is the only branch of the military to be affected directly by the shutdown. All 28 uniformed personnel at the Coast Guard Station in Erie have been working without pay since the shutdown began. Their first missed paychecks will be on Tuesday.

Civilian Coast Guard workers have been furloughed but no civilians work at the Erie station.

"There has been a slight shift of focus in terms of mission," said Petty Officer Brian McCrum, a public affairs specialist for the Coast Guard's Cleveland-based Ninth District, which covers the entire Great Lakes, including the Erie station. "We are focusing on essential services, like search-and-rescue, ice breaking, anything that involves protection of life and law enforcement."

Some routine administrative and maintenance duties, including training, have been postponed during the shutdown, McCrum said.

At Erie International Airport, federal employees are on the job, airport Executive Director Derek Martin said. TSA staff and air-traffic controllers, with the Federal Aviation Administration, "are not being paid but are continuing to work," Martin said Friday.

"As of yesterday and this morning, there have been no call-offs, as have happened in other parts of the country. Everyone is working," Martin said.

• The federal courthouse in Erie remains opens, and prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office are working without pay. The Erie office is a division of the Pittsburgh-based U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, which also remains open.

The government has determined the jobs of federal prosecutors are exempt from furloughs because they involve "the safety of human life or the protection of property," according to the Department of Justice's contingency plan for a shutdown.

Also working without pay are employees with the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Prisons and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. So are employees of Customs and Border Protection.

• The federal court system is continuing to operate despite the shutdown, though a financial reckoning is near. The courts, including those at the federal courthouse in Erie, have been using money from fees and other non-appropriated revenue to stay open. Judiciary workers have continued to get paid.

The courts have enough money to operate through , the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said this week. The office initially said that absent an end to the shutdown and an appropriation from Congress, the courts would run out of money on Friday.

To make sure the judiciary has enough money during the shutdown, the "courts have been asked to delay or defer non-mission critical expenses, such as new hires, non-case related travel and certain contracts," the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said in a statement on Monday.

If the courts run out of the fee-based funds with no appropriations, the courts will continue to operate, performing only "essential work" as defined by law, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said. That work, the office said, includes "the resolution of cases and related services."

Some federal courts have already limited their work due to the shutdown. On , four days after the shutdown, the Western District of Pennsylvania's chief judge, Mark Hornak, issued an order that stayed most civil cases in the district that involve a federal agency and the U.S. Attorney's Office or the Department of Justice. Hornak's jurisdiction includes the federal courthouse in Erie.

Photo Supervisor Christopher Millette and staff writers David Bruce and Valerie Myers contributed to this report.Ed Palattella can be reached at 870-1813 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNpalattella.Jim Martin can be reached at 870-1668 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNMartin.

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