The partial government shutdown reached a record 22nd day Saturday, and with hundreds of thousands of federal workers caught in the bureaucratic crossfire, it’s communities of color who are likely taking the hardest hit, the Congressional Black Caucus said.
The Partnership for Public Service Black estimates that Black people are 18 percent of the federal workforce despite making up just 12 percent of the country’s population — a statistic not lost on the CBC.
“We know that communities of color are disproportionately affected by this irresponsible Trump government shutdown,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who joined CBC Chair Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and fellow Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) and Anthony Brown (Md.) for a media conference call Friday. “And today is especially painful for so many workers because it should be payday.”
Without these paychecks, many federal workers are hanging by a thread, she said.
“I know there are hundreds of thousands of families out there who are grappling with the anxiety, and really fear, of not being able to pay the bills as this shutdown drags on,” said Lee, who co-chairs the Steering and Policy Committee and serves on the House Committee on Appropriations. “Let’s be very clear: what’s happening here is President Trump is holding this government hostage and holding people hostage in order to get his useless, wasteful wall.”
Brown said his state is one of those most affected by the shutdown. The 4th Congressional District in Maryland, which he represents, has the nation’s fifth-largest number of federal employees at more than 50,000.
“So I’m hearing about this, like my colleagues, each and every day from my constituents while this shutdown is set to become the longest in the nation’s history,” Brown said.
The CBC members said they were calling for an end to the shutdown so that workers can again begin to collect their paychecks and critical government services can resume.
They also denounced President Donald Trump’s threat to declare a state of emergency if Congress refuses to fund a border wall — one in which the president claimed during his campaign that Mexico would pay for.
“This shutdown and the whole issue of the wall is a fake crisis,” Bass said. “At the end of the day, even if he had all the money, it would still take eminent domain to build his wall. That process will take years. This is further evidence that this is a fake crisis and, in my opinion, just an attempt to change our attention away from the numerous impending investigations.”
An estimated 800,000 federal employees are furloughed or working without pay because Trump and Congress cannot reach a deal to reopen the government. The two sides are at an impasse over $5.7 billion for construction of a wall along the country’s southern border.
The number of furloughed employees does not include federal contractors, according to a report by NBC News. It’s unclear how many contract or grant employees are affected by the shutdown — or even how many there are in total — but a Volcker Alliance report estimated that nearly 5.3 million worked as contractors in 2015.
Unlike furloughed federal employees, who have received assurances that they will be paid once the shutdown ends, contractors are not owed back pay and that has left them in an even murkier economic position.
Thompson, the chair of the Homeland Security Committee, said the shutdown is taking a debilitating toll on workers and government operations.
“It is a challenge for us in Homeland Security,” he said. “We have 80 percent of the workforce not being paid. That goes from TSA employees in airports, to the Coast Guard, to the Secret Service, to Custom Border Protection individuals, and all of those individuals who have sworn to keep us safe, are not being paid.
“That’s not fair and we are compromising our national security strategy by reducing the morale of the employees,” Thompson said.