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Contract workers struggling to pay bills after shutdown: report

Contract workers struggling to pay bills after shutdown: report
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Some of the lowest-paid contract workers who aren't guaranteed back pay for their unpaid services during the recent government shutdown say they are still struggling to pay their bills.

Audrey Murray-Wright, who works as a supervisor at the National Portrait Gallery, told The Washington Post this week that she was forced to ration groceries for her family and could no longer afford to buy her blood pressure pills when her income stopped during the 35-day partial government shutdown that ended last Friday.

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Murray-Wright was one of over a million federal contract workers who stopped receiving income due to the government shutdown, the Post reported. She is one of thousands of contractors who work jobs like cleaning, guarding and cooking at federal workplaces that went without pay during the shutdown.

“I did have a little money in the bank — now that’s all gone,” she told the Post this week. “I don’t have any help. My electricity might be turned off any day now.”

Héctor Figueroa, who is president of the 32BJ SEIU labor union that represents nearly 170,000 workers in the U.S., told the Post that the government’s reopening is a temporary solution for workers who are struggling.

“Contracted workers are still in limbo,” he told the newspaper. “The men and women who clean and secure federal buildings have been living on the edge of disaster for five weeks. Many of these workers are facing eviction, power shut-offs, hunger and even going without lifesaving medications. And unlike direct federal employees, they may never be made whole.” 

Loniece Hamilton, a 25-year-old guard who works at the Smithsonian, told the Post that she is behind on “every single last one” of her bills due to the closure and had to borrow money from her family to get by with her 5-year-old son. 

She says it could take at least two months before she is caught up on her payments.

De’von Russell, 30, another security guard at the Smithsonian, told the Post that he was hit hard by the shutdown as he and his 3-year-old daughter currently live “paycheck to paycheck.” 

“When all the funds stopped coming in, it just was like: ‘What do I do now?’ ” Russell said, while also adding that he believes he’s lost $2,000 due to the shutdown.

According to the newspaper, nearly 850,000 workers received makeup pay after the 16-day shutdown in 2013. However, 1,200 cleaners, food-service workers and security guards in Washington reportedly did not.

Democratic senators introduced a bill that could help remedy that for some workers if passed. The measure, introduced by Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLeadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns IRS races to get remaining stimulus checks to low-income households Hillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software MORE (D-Va.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineRick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Grassley tests positive for coronavirus Top Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' MORE (D-Va.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | JPMorgan: Economy will shrink in first quarter due to COVID-19 spike Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE (D-Ohio), would allow federal contractors to be paid up to $965 a week with public money after a closure.