OGDEN — With no end to the government shutdown in sight, furloughed Internal Revenue Service employees from Ogden and their backers gathered Thursday with a message for lawmakers — end the stoppage so they can get back to work.
Mortgage payments are coming due, bills are going unpaid and some are cutting back on the basics, like eating.
“You kind of have to prioritize,” said Shelby Harris of Roy, one of 5,000 or so Ogden-area IRS employees, most of them furloughed, none of them getting paid as the shutdown lingers. “We eat a lot of ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese. You do what you have to do because we don’t know how long this is going to last.”
Harris and around 200 others gathered Thursday outside the James V. Hansen Federal Building in downtown Ogden, home to many IRS offices, pressing Congress and President Donald Trump to come up with a fix to end the shutdown. Participants held signs reading “Let my mommy work,” “Congress do your job/We want to work,” “Furlough Trump’s presidency” and more, saying the partial government closure is taking a heavy toll.
“The shutdown is hurting you, it is hurting me and it is hurting our communities,” said Shelly Carver, an IRS employee and treasurer of Chapter 67 of the National Treasury Employees Union, which organized the rally. “We need Congress and the (Trump) administration to take us out of the political game... We don’t want to be a bargaining chip for Congress or the administration.”
The IRS is one of the top employers in Ogden and the agency is among the many federal entities shuttered or partially shuttered by the partial shutdown. The key sticking point to funding legislation to get the impacted agencies running again is Trump’s call for the inclusion of as much as $5.7 billion to expand the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, opposed by Congressional Democrats.
Those on hand Thursday chanted things like “Hey hey, ho ho, government shutdown’s got to go” and “We want to work,” lamenting that they’re being made to pay for a dispute that’s out of their hands.
A local cafe provided coffee at the rally and the owner of a 25th Street bakery offered free loaves of bread for furloughed workers, making for a spirited atmosphere. Indeed, after Matt Westrich, a furloughed IRS worker from Roy, called on those taking part to call their federal representatives to press for action, one man held up his cellphone, indicating he was doing so then and there, generating laughs.
Still, more, like Shelby, spoke of bills going unpaid, the threat of future home mortgage payments getting put off, dwindling savings accounts and anxiety.
“I think people are really going to start getting angry and upset when they can’t pay their bills,” said Krystle Kirkpatrick of Clinton. She’s a furloughed IRS worker who’s mulling a temporary job pending an end to the shutdown to make sure she’s able to pay next month’s mortgage.
Daniel Lickey, an IRS employee, said his next car insurance payment comes due on Jan. 16. If he’s still out of work and can’t pay it, he’ll just get around on foot. More significantly, he worries he won’t be able to fill his prescription to help him deal with bipolar disorder.
“I know when I run out, I won’t be able to get more,” he said. “It really helps me out of my dark areas.”
Lori Wilcox, an IRS customer service representative who offers phone advice to those preparing their tax returns, has some money set aside and her husband works. Still, it’s not enough, a sentiment echoed by many.
“We live paycheck to paycheck,” said Wilcox, who lives in Hooper. “Tons of anxiety. Just struggle and figure it out every day.”
Harris said going without some things, like meat, is manageable. Scrimping on the counseling and therapy her teenage daughter needs, though, that’s another story and she too worries about her dwindling funds.
“I always pray. I’ve been doing it a lot more lately,” she said.
Beyond the pressure the shutdown is putting on the furloughed employees’ ability to pay bills, the situation is also impacting their self identity as wage earners and contributing members of the community.
“I just want to go back to work to do my job,” said Lickey. “Let us do our job. We don’t do this just for a paycheck. We love what we do.”