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For federal workers, temporary funding deal may yield only temporary relief

Although the government will reopen for at least three weeks, the shutdown’s economic consequences for federal workers, government contractors and businesses have already been felt around the country. For perspective on this enduring impact, Amna Nawaz is joined by LaJuanna Russell, whose human resources firm contracts with the government, and Brad Hufford, a grant manager at FEMA.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The federal government shutdown may be ending, but federal employees, many businesses and contractors who work with the government have already been personally affected, as you have been hearing.

    Amna Nawaz hears about some of that impact and what may linger.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, for two weeks now, some 800,000 federal workers have gone without paychecks. They will get back pay, but, for many, it's been a tense time, with mounting bills and pressures.

    More than one million contractors have been feeling that pressure, too. An estimate by Bloomberg found contractors may have collectively lost $200 million a day in lost or delayed revenue, with no guarantees about back pay yet.

    Let's hear now from a couple of people who are caught up in all of this.

    Brad Hufford is a grant director employed by FEMA who works in the Denver area. And LaJuanna Russell is president of Business Management Associates, a human resources firm that contracts with federal government agencies.

    Welcome to you both. Thanks for being here.

  • Brad Hufford:

    Thank you.

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    Thank you for having us.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    LaJuanna, I want to start with you now.

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    Sure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned, when you spoke to one of my colleagues earlier, when the news came down the shutdown was over, you said you felt numb. Why was that?

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    Because I don't know what's going to happen next. This is a three-week. It's like an interim play.

    So, in three weeks, are we going to be able to go longer? Are we going to be back in the same position? There's no telling what's really going to happen. So what do I tell my employees?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you have about 90 employees, we should point out, right?

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    Correct.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Have they been asking questions? What are you telling them?

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    They're asking a lot of questions. They don't know if it's going to continue, if we're going to be without pay again. Should we find another job? Is our contract still going to be viable?

    There's a lot of questions that they have.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A lot of uncertainty still.

    And, Brad, you have gone two pay periods without a paycheck.

  • Brad Hufford:

    That's correct.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You told my producer, though, you consider yourself one of the lucky one. Why is that?

  • Brad Hufford:

    Yes, I do consider myself lucky.

    Yes, I do consider myself lucky. I was able to have an emergency fund and able to pay my mortgage out of my savings.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So there wasn't a terrible financial impact for you.

    What about for your colleagues? Have they shared that they have felt some tension and pressure?

  • Brad Hufford:

    Yes.

    So, I have a employee of mine who has worked for FEMA for less than a year. He's a lower entry-level employee. And I look at that, two kids, new house. And it's been terribly impactful on him.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    LaJuanna, when you're talking to your colleagues now, you wrote an op-ed about this, we should say, about the impact this was having on your business. That was two weeks ago, you wrote that.

    And you said that it already had an impact.

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    At this point, do you know what the full impact has been on your business?

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    I honestly do not, because I don't know which of our employees — we have been talking to them and working with them.

    But when the government is furloughed, we're furloughed. So, those employees that were impacted, they have been furloughed. So have they found other jobs? We have been talking to them, and, of course, they say, no, no, we're coming back. We're going to continue work.

    But on Monday morning, this is like almost panic weekend for us. We're calling everybody, making sure that everything is good. We just don't know, because people have to continue to live.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In other words, you don't know if you will be able to pick up your business back where it was when you left off.

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    Exactly.

    We have already lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. So what does that really mean? We — I haven't even been able to calculate that yet.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you mentioned that you have also been trying to help some of those employees in the interim. Tell me about that.

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    Yes. Yes, I — it's just — it's humanity. Right?

    Yes, I'm not able to give you your full paycheck, but I can — I can advance you some leave without PTO, which is personal time off. We have sent gift cards to — for — like American Express gift cards, so they can go anywhere, if they need to buy food, if they need to just buy medicine.

    We have had people who, they're choosing between, do I pay my rent or do I buy medicine for my children? So that gift card will at least enable them to do something and continue their lives in some kind of a fashion.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Paychecks aside, Brad, the actual work that you do, emergency management, is of critical importance. Tell me about that. What has been the impact of being furloughed for these last five weeks on the work that you left off?

  • Brad Hufford:

    So, the work, the day-to-day work — I work as a grants division director.

    So the grants have not been monitored this time — for this time. And that puts us behind for the year in making sure that our grants are being taken care of and that that money is being spent as it's intended to be spent.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, in the meantime, are you worried about some of the projects falling by the wayside, about lapses?

  • Brad Hufford:

    Well, yes.

    And we have to look at it — we will have to, when we get back, make a plan to make sure that we're doing all of the things that we were supposed to do for this year. And then, again, as discussed, we could be in the same boat again in three weeks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So now that you know you will be getting some kind of back pain, do you feel like it was worth it? Is it like it never happened?

  • Brad Hufford:

    I don't believe it's not like it never happened to me.

    However, I will take the — this money to replenish my emergency fund, in case we're back in this — back in this position again.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, LaJuanna, what about you?

    Obviously, we don't yet know if there's going to be back pay in some way for contractors. As our Lisa Desjardins reported earlier, it's under consideration. If that happens, would that make you whole? Does that allow you to just move on?

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    No, not really, not really, because I think that when you have individuals who may have already been on some level of a financial crisis, getting the money in a month from when they should have had the money to pay the mortgage on their home may not save their home.

    You never know what type of situation that an individual is in. And we obviously don't get into that as an employer. But I always think of that in the back of my head. We don't know where someone is, how someone is living.

    And to not have their — their pay for two whole cycles, that is — that's a big, big impact. It's a big impact.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It doesn't sound like the announcement today has brought you much relief.

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    The announcement today has brought me a little relief, from the perspective of — from the op-ed — you mentioned the op-ed.

    And there was — when you do things like that, you get positive and negative feedback. And I received a phone call in my office. Luckily, I wasn't there. But the individual left a message.

    And he basically said: You know, I don't want my tax dollars spent like this. So I'm kind of glad.

    And I thought about that. And I said, wow, there's so much un-education in America, in that people don't understand how government really works and how it impacts them day to day.

    And maybe this kind of does show people how government truly works and it impacts you day to day, whether you're sitting in the middle of Washington, D.C., or not, and that there's going to be some level of education and understanding in terms of that day-to-day impact and what you really are using these services for.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Maybe a little bit of understanding out of all of this.

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    LaJuanna Russell, Brad Hufford, thank you so much for being here.

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    Thank you.

  • Brad Hufford:

    Thank you. I appreciate it.

  • LaJuanna Russell:

    Thank you so much.

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