The latest temporary budget fix in Washington means hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers are back on the job.
Among them are Jeff and Carol Burke, who rode out the furlough at their St. Paul home. They’re relieved to be back at work at the Whipple Federal Building in Minneapolis, where Jeff Burke, a disabled Navy veteran, processes veterans’ debt-relief claims. Carol Burke is a manager.
For the Burkes, the 16-day partial government shutdown was a life-changing experience.
Apart from walking their dog Mac, they spent most of their time at home during the shutdown. Not sure they’d be paid for the time they were off from work, they didn’t want to spend any more than absolutely necessary.
“With no income, with nothing in sight, we’ve just had to sit here and watch other people control our lives which are pretty sad,” Carol Burke said.
The Burkes have a 17-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. Carol Burke said they’ve been eating inexpensive home-cooked meals since the furlough started — including lots of breakfasts for dinner.
The furlough also compelled them to permanently cut expenses. They cancelled their two newspaper subscriptions and are planning on disconnecting their hardwired telephone line. Even though they are going back to work, they plan to use cell phones from now on.
“This was like a wakeup call,” Jeff Burke said. “Every chance we can look now to cut back we are.”
After the Burkes were sent home from work, he spent much of his time tracking shutdown developments on cable news – an experience he said left him angry and “beat down.”
This morning, the Burkes were told to report back to work. They’re relieved that the law Congress passed to end the shutdown by funding the federal government through Jan. 15 and permitting it to borrow normally through Feb. 7 also mandates that they and other furloughed federal workers will be paid what they would have been paid had they not been sent home.
Outside the Whipple Federal Building where they work, workers streaming into their jobs didn’t want to answer questions. Reached by phone Jeff Burke said he and his colleagues think the shutdown was a waste of time and money.
“Everybody here is upset at how the government handled this,” he said.
Burke, who blames conservative Republicans for the shutdown, worries that the nation is headed for a similar battle in a few months.
“Ted Cruz and even John Boehner — they’re like ready for another fight,” Burke said of the Texas senator and the Speaker of the House. “It’s like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And it’s just like they don’t get what mainstream America is all about. This is like their own personal agenda.”
His wife said many people seemed unaware of the plight of federal workers.
“If we’ve mentioned it to anybody when we’ve been out, they had that kind of blank stare,” she said. “They just have no idea of what it means to anyone.”