RALEIGH, N.C. -- As the federal government shutdown continues to be felt, Triangle residents who are feeling the impact are starting to raise the volume of their opposition.
A small but spirited crowd gathered at Moore Square in downtown Raleigh this morning to protest the impact the shutdown is having on them and on the work that they do for the federal government. Many of the protesters were workers at the Environmental Protection Agency office in Research Triangle Park, where almost all of the 1,000 workers have been sent home without pay.
EPA employee Scott Voorhees is among them. He was at the demonstration carrying a sign, aimed at Congress: “Why are you shutting down the recovery?”
Asked how the shutdown is impacting him, he said: “I’m going to have to start drawing down my savings and deferring payment on some expenses. …We’ve been eating from the freezer and taking less trips to the grocery store.”
Voorhees said he is concerned about what will happen in the long term. “I have a son in college and I’m the only one in my family with an income,” he said.
Meanwhile, health-care providers are howling about the decision on the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to discontinue issuing vouchers under the federal Women Infants and Children (WIC) program, which allows low-income mothers to buy baby formula and nutritional food. The agency informed health-care providers on Tuesday that they could no longer issue the vouchers due to the shutdown.
“The fight in Washington has come to North Carolina in the form of harm to our most innocent citizens,” said Brian Toomey, CEO of Piedmont Health, which operates seven community health centers in central North Carolina. The health centers provide high-quality, low-cost medical care, dental care and other health-related services including WIC.
The inability of WIC participants to use the vouchers is hurting local businesses, Toomey added.
Not all of protesters at the event this morning were federal employees. Raleigh resident David Scott said he was there to support the federal workers. “Only an enemy would shut down the government,” Scott said. “We want to see Obamacare implemented. We think it’s a very good thing. There hasn’t been a reasonable argument made against it.”
House Speaker John Boehner, who has refused to allow a vote on a resolution that would reopen government until President Obama agrees to negotiate over Obamacare, is “acting like a 2-year-old,” Scott said.
Tom McCurdy, an EPA scientist who was carrying a sign decrying “Tea Party – mean-spirited anarchists,” said that he has spent time since the shutdown doing volunteer work like picking up trash to keep busy and said he wants to return to work.
“What does the shutdown accomplish?” he asked plaintively.
The House has passed a bill allowing retroactive pay if and when the shutdown ends, but the Senate has yet to pass that bill. Uncertainty over how long the shutdown will last is weighing heavy on federal workers, according to Sylvia Saracco, president of Local 3347 of the American Federation of Government Employees. The local represents 1,000 employees at RTP, Saracco said.
“Some have kids in college, some are taking care of parents – those bills are coming due,” she said. “They’re stressed out. That’s why a lot of people are out in the community doing something.”
Federal workers cannot do their jobs even if they want to work without pay, Saracco said. The government has told them that working without pay is prohibited and could result in termination, she said.
That is upsetting to Russell Wiener, a doctor who works in research at the EPA. Among his responsibilities is formulating a response to terrorist attacks from anthrax or other threats. “All that work has been stopped now that we are on furlough,” Wiener said.
MaryBe McMillian, Secretary-Treasurer of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, added that the shutdown is impacting the ability of a wide verity of government functions, including food inspections and airline safety. She added: “The Republicans in Congress need to stop hurting our government and holding people hostage.”