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Federal Workers, Civilian Contractors Share How Shutdown Is Affecting Them


It wasn't until about midday today that senators announced they had a deal to end the government shutdown now in its third day. Some federal employees have been working without knowing whether they'd get paid. Others spent much of today wondering when they'd get to go back to work. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports from the Hampton Roads region of southeast Virginia that's home to one of the nation's biggest concentrations of federal workers and contractors.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: At a coffee shop near the Norfolk waterfront this morning, Steve Keck was just coming from the office and not sure when he'd be going back. Keck is an administration officer at the Coast Guard Force Readiness Command. He'd been tying up some loose ends and letting several of his direct reports know they were being furloughed.

STEVE KECK: And then also truly making sure that all the time cards were in. That was one of my - I wanted to make sure that all my employees for this last two weeks, that they had certified and validated their time cards, that they would get paid for this last two weeks.

MCCAMMON: Keck was preparing to spend the day visiting his children at school and hoping the furlough wouldn't last long. He'd been struggling to explain the shutdown to the kids.

KECK: My two younger boys started crying when they heard the government was going to shut down. And they at first got excited, thinking it was a snow day, and then they started to cry. And they asked me, you know, why does this happen?

MCCAMMON: Keck says he blames both parties for failing to do their jobs, and worries that in a couple of weeks negotiations will break down again and he and many others will be furloughed again. Across town, Joe Ferrara of Virginia Beach used the day to take his blue Ford F-150 in for servicing at a local dealership.

JOE FERRARA: Yeah, it was the bulbs and...


FERRARA: ...The ballasts and all that stuff.

MCCAMMON: Ferrara works for the Department of Defense in Norfolk. He hopes this fight will push Congress toward a long-term budget deal that will offer some stability.

FERRARA: Personally I'm fine with it because I want to see a budget. I'm tired of seeing these CRs come through, the continuing resolutions. I want to see a budget that will allow us to do in the DOD and for the country what we need to do.

MCCAMMON: Ferrara says he's fortunate enough to have a financial cushion to get him through any interruption to his paycheck. But he worries about his younger and less financially secure colleagues. CherylAnn Kraft is a nurse consultant to the Defense Health Agency who splits her time between Norfolk and the Washington, D.C., area. As the wife of a disabled veteran, Kraft says her family relies on her income, something she wishes members of Congress would keep in mind.

CHERYLANN KRAFT: I got they need to deal with immigration. Then do it. But don't make me suffer. And don't use me as a pawn in your political game. That's where I have an issue. I'm tired of people thinking that these political antics that are going on don't have real-life consequences to citizens and their families.

MCCAMMON: That's the reality for many people in places like southeast Virginia, which is dominated by military installations and shipyards. Bryan Stephens, the president of Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, says more than 40 percent of the region's economy depends on federal dollars both through government employment and its ripple effects on local businesses like restaurants.

BRYAN STEPHENS: If you're dealing on a day-to-day basis with contracts with the federal government and there's that level of uncertainty, it certainly makes things more difficult for you, especially when you're trying to plan budgets and do strategic planning and those type of things.

MCCAMMON: Stephens says that news of a deal to reopen the government is welcome, but the big question is how long that will last. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Virginia Beach.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOMBOX'S "INDIA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.