Thousands of Furloughed Federal Workers File for Unemployment Benefits

From today’s New York Times:

On the second day of the year, Danielle Miller gave up on the federal government.

Furloughed from her Internal Revenue Service job near Cincinnati and fearful of running out of money during the partial government shutdown, she filed for unemployment benefits: $414 a week, about $200 less than usual.

“Once Christmas came and went, after New Year’s, I was like, I can’t go on,” said Ms. Miller, a single mother who has worked for the I.R.S. for almost 14 years. She spent part of this week calculating when her first unemployment check would arrive. “It’s disappointing, and it’s frustrating,” she said. “I have a job.”

The shutdown, the longest on record, is prompting tens of thousands of federal employees to seek jobless benefits. As the impasse meanders through its fourth week and more bills come due, their numbers have been growing.

On Thursday, two days after the White House doubled its projections and warned that the shutdown was reducing quarterly economic growth by 0.13 percentage points per week, the Labor Department reported 10,454 initial claims by federal workers for the week that ended Jan. 5, doubling the previous week’s figure. Thousands more have applied since, state officials said.

Read the complete article here.

Interactive Map: Government Shutdown Is Affecting Federal Workers in All States

From today’s New York Times:

About 800,000 federal workers are furloughed or working without pay across the country because of the government shutdown, many of them concentrated in the West.

Over all, federal workers account for about 1.5 percent of the country’s labor force, with a fifth of them in the Washington metro area. But the shutdown has hit some agencies — and states — harder than others.

Outside the capital, states with large numbers of workers for the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are more likely to feel the shutdown’s effects. And nearly the entire staff of the Environmental Protection Agency is furloughed, including hundreds of workers in North Carolina and Illinois.

A budget agreement to end the shutdown remains the subject of a fierce partisan fight in Congress, with federal workers caught in the middle. Some senators who count these workers among their constituents are pushing for an end to the impasse, but federal employment does not appear to have a clear relationship to lawmakers’ positions on the shutdown.

Read the complete article here.

Pence and Cabinet Members Are Due a Raise, as Federal Workers Go Unpaid

From today’s New York Times

Vice President Mike Pence, members of the cabinet and other high-ranking political appointees in the Trump administration are positioned to receive a pay bump of about $10,000 a year even as 800,000 federal employees are entering their third week without paychecks.

The increases are the result of Congress’s failure to renew a longstanding freeze on raises for high-ranking officials and political appointees. An extension of the freeze was included in the spending bills funding multiple government agencies that were not acted on before the expiration of the 115th Congress on Thursday.

That has created an unexpected optics issue for the Trump administration: While correctional officers, Transportation Security Administration agents, and other federal employees work without pay during the government shutdown, Mr. Pence’s annual salary could jump to $243,500 from $230,700. Cabinet secretaries who are paid $199,700 a year could see their annual pay rise to $210,700.

The administration appeared to be aware of the perception problem, and hoped to avoid it. Asked at his news conference on Friday if he would freeze the raises during the shutdown, President Trump said he “might consider that.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later explained that the administration was “exploring options to prevent this from being implemented while some federal workers are furloughed” and described the situation as “another unnecessary byproduct of the shutdown” that she said could be remedied by Congress.

Read the complete article here.

House GOP shuts down government, harming workers and economy alike

The federal government remains in partial shut down today after the House GOP, spurred on by a fringe element of Tea Party extremists, refused to pass legislation authorizing a budget until and unless funding for the Affordable Care Act is eliminated or the implementation of some of its important features are delayed.

The problem is that the ACA is already law and has been delayed once so that insurance exchanges could be set up. The GOP demands for rolling back so-called “Obamacare” therefore amount to blackmail and coercion by a minority of politicians who lost the legislative fight to defeat it. Now like children who can’t get their way, Republicans are using the budget battle and looming debt-ceiling crisis to try and gain concessions to which they have no right.

The GOP says it is the party of responsible economics and ordinary Americans, but when one looks at their track record, all that can be seen is a list of failures and lies:

1. The GOP’s economic ideology and subsequent policies under President Bush deregulated the economy, particularly the financial sector, to risky levels never before seen. As a result banks and financial institutions engaged in increasingly irrational behavior in order to make short but huge profits that led to the Great Recession in 2008. The idea that markets work better without government interference is a facile talking point, but in reality it means leaving capitalists to do whatever they want no matter how the risky the outcomes. Government oversight of the financial industry is not the same thing as “interference” unless one thinks it is better to let wealthy and powerful banks and hedge funds to loot the financial sector and outsource the cost to the taxpayers, which is exactly what happened. The rich got richer, but Americans had to foot the bill for it in the form of government bailouts of banks, the auto industry, and housing market.

2. The GOP’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act is also an irrational piece of fantasy motivated by the false economic ideology it continues to promote in the face of overwhelming facts that “free” markets basically amount to permitting market failures. The problem of uninsured Americans is the single largest example of a market failure in recent history. Over 50 million Americans lack health insurance because the costs have exceeded the demand—individuals and businesses alike simply cannot afford insurance because of sky-rocketing medical care costs and declining marginal profits of insurance companies. The Affordable Care Act uses markets to incentivize competition and create better access for the uninsured. Why does the GOP resist using market exchanges for providing health care? The answer is that Republicans irrationally assume (along with a public blitz of misinformation) that the federal government is making a grab for health care, and that “socialist” Obama is undermining democracy, but this is red herring and racism rolled into one. The truth is that the Affordable Care Act will help millions of ordinary Americans get access to health insurance they could not otherwise afford, which means that the GOP’s opposition to it reveals that it really doesn’t care about ordinary Americans at all.

The sad fact is American politics is increasingly partisan and divisive because it is increasingly driven by personalities, and they are increasingly uneducated, ill-mannered, and downright spiteful personalities. Just listen to Rep. Steve King (R-IA) who claims that Republicans are “right” that the Affordable Care Act will destroy America. Since the law went into effect yesterday, the sky hasn’t fallen but Republicans like King keep on believing they are right, and this dangerous mentality of extremism is at the root of the problem. It must be rooted out methodically before this fringe minority destroys America and the global economy along with it.