On Monday, federal employees will return to work. For now. After more than 30 days, the partial federal shutdown ended Friday. During that time, almost 11,000 New Mexicans—and 800,000 people nationwide—were either furloughed or working without pay. But many people remain wary, given that the deal worked out between Congress and the White House only reopens the government for three weeks, through February 15.
Speaking in downtown Albuquerque Monday afternoon, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall called the federal shutdown—currently in its 31st day—“sheer madness.”
According to what Udall called “conservative” estimates, 10,800 federal employees in New Mexico are working without pay or have been furloughed. The shutdown is also affecting government contractors and local economies. “I’ve heard from merchants all around Albuquerque, ‘We’re not seeing the business, people are not coming out to restaurants, they’re not coming out to stores,’” he said. And the longer the shutdown lasts, the deeper the economic impacts will be. The shutdown, he added, is hurting the country’s ability to move forward.
Federal employees and contractors aren’t the the only ones suffering because of the government’s nearly monthlong partial shutdown. A local construction company with an $8.4 million contract to build two new hangars for private aviation companies at the Santa Fe airport is unable to begin work on the project because it needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration — whose employees are furloughed because of the budget impasse in Congress. “It’s a design-and-build project,” said Peter Brill, president of Sarcon Construction, referring to the work his company has done on the architectural and engineering side. “We’ve been on this for about nine months, getting construction documents ready.” But the company hasn’t been able to break ground because the FAA approval has been held up by the shutdown.
After a little more than a week in his new job, New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary-designate Bill McCamley made a major, albeit temporary, rule change for federal employees seeking unemployment benefits because of the ongoing federal government shutdown. McCamley announced Wednesday that he is temporarily waiving a federally mandated work requirement to receive state unemployment benefits. “If you file for unemployment, by federal law, you’re supposed to show that you were looking for two jobs a week, and if you get a job and you turn it down, you lose unemployment,” McCamley told NM Political Report on Wednesday evening. “That’s really crappy for an air traffic controller who’s still working and not getting paid.”
Thousands of New Mexicans are either working without pay or have been furloughed. In a YouTube video, McCamley outlined some specifics of the rule change, which could last for 180 days if necessary.
Last week, while New Mexicans orchestrated New Year’s Eve celebrations around snowstorm warnings from the National Weather Service (NWS), the agency’s meteorologists and forecasters were working without pay—and without any certainty about the future. NWS is under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. And NWS’ mission is to “provide weather, water and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.” That means employees of the three field offices that cover New Mexico are considered “excepted” employees, explained Kerry Jones, a warning coordination meteorologist with NWS in Albuquerque. Employees’ forecasts and weather warnings are essential, but they’ve had to forgo all other work—canceling meetings, tours and school visits—while at the same time paring down their social media outreach. Now, like some 800,000 other federal employees nationwide, they’re entering their second pay period without pay.