Many Cowetans waiting out shutdown

by W. Winston Skinner

The federal government is closed for business — at least the parts deemed nonessential.

How the shutdown is impacting federal workers varies a great deal. Depending on which agency employs them and the schedule on which they are paid, furloughed employees may be feeling a pinch — or hoping the whole situation gets settled before their next payday.

Shanna Croft, a Coweta County resident for the past 10 years, has not yet received a financial hit. The 32-year-old, a human resources specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration, received her last regularly scheduled paycheck on Oct. 1, the day the House and Senate were unable to agree on legislation to keep the government fully functional.

“My next check — if someone was there to get my time entered — will be next Tuesday and will only consist of one week’s pay,” Croft said.

Croft has worked for the FAA for nine years, and — like many American workers — she already knows what it is like to be furloughed. “I have been furloughed already one day this year as a result of sequestration beginning back on March 1,” she said.

FAA employees were required to be furloughed 22 days before the end of the fiscal year on Sept 30, 2014. “This meant that we had to take a furlough day — one day every two weeks — through the end of the fiscal year,” she said.

Most other federal agencies were still imposing sequestration furlough days when the Oct. 1 issues arose. The FAA’s furloughs, however, were canceled in April because of concerns about flight delays.

Leslie Shedd, press secretary to U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican who lives near Grantville, said Westmoreland keeps a relatively small staff in his Washington office and turns some of the money appropriated to run his office back to the U.S. Treasury each year. “We run a really tight ship,” Shedd said.

“Initially when the federal government was shut down, we weren’t sure what was going to happen,” she said. Although Westmoreland contends everyone on his small staff is essential, half of his employees were furloughed each day for several days.

When House Resolution 2233, which would pay federal workers for their furlough days, passed the House 407-0, Westmoreland had all his staff come back to work. The bill has still not passed the Senate.

Shedd said Westmoreland’s office is hearing from people who are wondering about how the shutdown will impact them. Shedd said she learned of possible cuts to the Meals On Wheels programs. “I personally brought it up because we were getting calls from a bunch of great senior citizens in Carrollton,” she said. She expressed hope that funding would be restored soon.

While Shedd is Westmoreland’s press liaison, she also is a federal employee — dealing with the shutdown like all the rest. “It so far has not been something that has impacted me personally,” she said.

Shedd is paid monthly and got her last paycheck Sept. 30. She is concerned about what could happen if the shutdown continues past Nov. 1. She shares a three-bedroom apartment with two other people in Washington and will need to pay $1,250 on Nov. 1.

If there is not a paycheck at the end of October, “I don’t know how I am going to pay my rent,” Shedd said.

Shedd said different parts of the government pay their employees in different ways. She knows a Senate staffer who is paid on the first and third Friday of each month.

Coweta resident Andrew Bellisle has been working for the concessionaire in Yosemite National Park in California. “He is coming home this week,” his father, Walter Bellisle, said. “There is no business.”

Croft and her husband, Brandon, have two children — Kaylee, 6, and Cameron, 3. When she is home from work on a normal schedule, much of Croft’s time centers around the children and activities such as softball and dance, as well as events on the church calendar.

“I know right now is a scary time, but I just thank God for the extra time I have been able to spend with my children,” she said. “I usually work nine-hour days, so I consider this part of the furlough to be a blessing.”

With regard to the possible loss of income, Croft was sanguine. “I have prayed about it for a while when it first started and I know that God will provide for us financially — as he always does,” she said.

“I am more concerned about the friends of mine where both spouses work for the federal government and are both on furlough. We have done pretty good in saving throughout the year and luckily my husband is self-employed, so we have income to supplement my non-pay during this time,” she reflected.

Several Cowetans who work for the federal government and are furloughed said this week that they have been told not to talk with the news media about how that situation is impacting their lives. “We've been briefed to not participate in any interviews right now,” one stated.

It is apparently common practice in many government offices to limit media contact to one or two employees.

Shedd said she hopes the shutdown will end soon — that there will be an agreement to put the government back in operation, freeing legislators “to negotiate on some of the big picture ideas.”

“I pray daily for those that will have no income for a month or longer depending on how long this lasts. They will have to decide which bills don't get paid,” Shanna Croft said.

If the shutdown continues, more and more federal worker will be facing expenses and no income. “It’s going to be really hard for people,” Shedd said.



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