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Civilian employees head back to work as shutdown continues
While Ron Witherall was happy to return to work Monday at his Department of Defense job at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, he said he plans to take his opinions about the federal government shutdown straight to the polls.
“When I vote this time around, if there’s ‘incumbent’ behind your name, you’re out. I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Tea Party or Democrat,” Witherall said.
“If you can’t work together in Congress and pass a budget, then we need new people that can work together across lines in the sand and get the job done.”
Due to Congress’ inability to agree on a national budget, the government effectively shut down nearly all federal operations Oct. 1. The result was the furlough of hundreds of civilian staff at NAS Whidbey and about 400,000 nationally.
At the 11th hour before the government shutdown, Congress passed the Pay Our Military Act, later interpreted to include certain members of DOD’s civilian employees who provide support to members of the armed forces.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Oct. 5 the recall of most of the civilian employees who were furloughed due to the government shutdown.
Many essential federal services island-wide were unaffected by the shutdown, however, including the U.S. Postal Service, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. The federal Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, is funded through the end of October.
The furlough is the second in a matter of months for Witherall, a retired Navy chief of 20 years who works in the hazmat center on base. He and roughly 1,200 Whidbey DOD employees were furloughed in July one day-a-week for three weeks due to sequestration.
For employees like Witherall, the current furloughs created a strange predicament where they were able to start drawing federal unemployment, but then have to turn around and suspend it. On top of that, if recent retroactive pay legislation is approved, Witherall will have to repay unemployment funds he may have received.
“I’ll pay back my unemployment insurance benefit, but who knows, I may be furloughed again on Oct. 17,” Witherall said.
For that reason, he is keeping his unemployment insurance open, he said, until Congress passes legislation to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a national default by the Oct. 17 deadline.
“Congress is effectively hurting our nation and it looks like it will get worse on Oct. 17 unless they can finally do their job and pass a budget and keep the nation from going into default,” Witherall said.
“I know contractors that work on base that were furloughed and I’m sure they will not get retroactive back-pay. This is just one example of how Congress has effectively hurt our nation. Congress needs to do their job in a timely manner and stop playing this finger-pointing game.”
Like Witherall, NAS Whidbey computer assistant Kristi Dutton was sent home Wednesday, Oct. 2 after two hours of work.
“To put it politely, I was not happy,” Dutton said. “I was as angry and upset as everyone else was. Here we are getting sent home, and all these guys in D.C. are still getting paid.”
Dutton echoed Witherall’s sentiment that the country’s current representatives are not doing their jobs and should be voted out of office.
“If I was doing a crappy job like them at my job, I’d be fired,” Dutton said.
Dutton confirmed Monday morning that she was returning to work Wednesday, Oct. 9. However, she said, the week without work created undue stress for her family, particularly after the furlough in July.
“You start to get back to a good recovery program, and then they send you home again,” Dutton said. “You think, ‘They’re being nice us, but what’s next.’ ”