Texas Politics

Shutdown hits home in DFW: ‘We have some tough decisions to make in the coming days’

‘We’re here doing our duty.’ DFW air traffic controllers ask travelers to help end shutdown

Air traffic controllers are working without pay due to the government shutdown. This week they're handing out pamphlets to travelers at DFW Airport asking them to contact Congress to reopen the government.
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Air traffic controllers are working without pay due to the government shutdown. This week they're handing out pamphlets to travelers at DFW Airport asking them to contact Congress to reopen the government.

Denise Massie is worried.

Massie’s husband, an engineer with the Federal Aviation Administration, hasn’t been working or getting his paycheck since before the holidays because of the partial government shutdown.

A nurse by trade, Massie is on partial bed rest as she nears a March due date for the birth of the couple’s fifth child. The Fort Worth family is cutting back and budgeting, but they’re very anxious about their finances.

“It is something that you don’t want to talk about a lot,” said Massie, 42. “It is something. Pride. You don’t want to ask and say, ‘We need this, we need that.’ ”

As the partial government shutdown continues, many Texas families like the Massies are carrying a quiet burden.

Their worries and struggles may not be obvious.

But your neighbors, friends and fellow worshipers could be among the 800,000 federal workers across the country hurting the most from the ongoing shutdown.

They have unpaid bills, unbought groceries — and may soon have to choose between paying their mortgages or the daycare bills.

Many alongside them want to help.

“This is our community,” said Brian Golden, president of the Tarrant County Central Labor Council, an organization trying to help families impacted by the shutdown. “This is us. It breaks my heart. I am hoping more and more people start to see it.”

The partial government shutdown began Dec. 22, impacting several agencies — including the IRS and EPA — as well as nine federal departments: State, Transportation, Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security and Housing and Urban Development.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are furloughed or working without pay, even though they’ll be paid for hours worked retroactively once a deal is reached. Also affected are government contract workers and it is unclear if they will get back pay.

“The promise of back pay will not cover the cost of rent or groceries today,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, said in a statement after his bill guaranteeing pay to furloughed federal workers was signed by President Trump. “Federal workers are dedicated public servants who shouldn’t continue to suffer.

“Let’s reopen the government and get them all back to work.”

No end to the shutdown appears to be in sight and a poll shows that federal employees appear to be those most affected by it.

A Rasmussen Reports online and phone poll shows 10 percent of likely voters say they’ve been majorly affected by the shutdown, 35 percent say they’ve felt a minor impact and 54 percent say the shutdown has had no impact whatsoever on them.

TSA worker: ‘Tough decisions’

Johnny Jones, a Transportation Security Administration officer at DFW Airport since 2002, soon may be calling the bank that holds his mortgage to ask for more time to make his monthly payment.

“We have had to delay a lot of plans in my family and change our habits,” said Jones, who works in a DFW baggage area and was among dozens of TSA workers who protested the shutdown this week outside Terminal D.

“We have some tough decisions to make in the coming days, whether to turn off our cellphones, whether to try to renegotiate our monthly house payment — which goes on your credit report — and whether to get rid of daycare.”

Despite the hardships, Jones, a husband and father of four children, is required to work 40 hours a week.

During a recent protest outside DFW Airport Terminal D, federal workers chanted “End the shutdown! End it now!”

Air traffic controllers ‘caught in middle’

Most air traffic controllers have been working with no pay since the shutdown began.

After missing their first paycheck, some have taken on second jobs — such as driving for Lyft or Uber — to try to help pay their bills, said Nick Daniels, the southwest regional vice president with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Daniels has been among the air traffic controllers handing out pamphlets calling for an end to the shutdown, and the return of their support staff, at DFW and other airports across the country.

“We are caught in the middle of the shutdown,” Daniels said. “It has nothing to do with the working men and women who should be paid for the expertise they are providing. But the shutdown is on their backs now.”

FAA wife describes ‘stressful’ situation

In Fort Worth, Massie — whose children range in age from 20 to 6 — describes “a situation that is very, very stressful.”

Her high-risk pregnancy meant she had to stop working while on partial bed rest. She is trying not to stress, but the longer the shutdown lasts, the more she worries, especially about an unexpected financial emergency.

The shutdown came so close to the holidays that it allowed for very little planning, she said. The family adjusted for the holidays, making sure most of the presents went to their 6-year-old.

“The kids were wondering where Santa was,” Massie said. “We had to say everybody is cutting back this year.”

Twelve-year-old Angelica Massie is trying to stay upbeat.

The sixth-grade student said her classmates aren’t really talking about the shutdown. She keeps the shutdown stress off her mind by watching television shows that make her smile such as “Impractical Jokers.”

Angelica Massie’s advice for other children impacted by the shutdown? “It might be bad now, but it could be worse, and worse can only get better.”

Helping federal workers

North Texas food banks are seeing an increase in clients seeking help, said Amie Hebdige, an associate executive director with the Tarrant Area Food Bank.

“The face of hunger, people don’t really let you know who they are,” she said. “But a lot of calls are from people asking how to eke food assistance. A lot of current (clients) already know how. A lot of government and furloughed employees have never needed to seek assistance before.”

At the same time, a group of employees at Lockheed Martin is trying to figure out how to help those affected by the shutdown.

Some want to donate money directly to furloughed workers. Others propose challenging workers at other companies in North Texas to match donations — maybe an hour’s pay or a day’s worth of pay — made by Lockheed employees, said Lindsey Newsome, 68, a machinist for 42 years at Lockheed.

“Whatever we can do to help, we will,” the Fort Worth man said. “We will do the best we can.”

Tony Miller, a 59-year-old Lockheed worker, wants to somehow turn this into a YouTube.com challenge.

“This strikes a nerve with me,” he said. “I was in the military and I understand what it’s like to have to do things when you aren’t getting paid.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1000, which represents grocery store employees, raised $2,500 to help the feed families of union workers affected by the shutdown.

Golden’s labor group also is trying to figure how to best help families. He said members are working with the United Way of Tarrant County and trying to get groceries into the hands of families.

Golden said their efforts hit some red tape as government employees are not allowed to accept more than $20 in donations. They are in the process of seeing how this rule applies to the shutdown.

“We are brothers and sisters as workers,” Golden said, noting that they have responded to other emergencies including helping victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Housing impact

If the shutdown lasts through February, many Fort Worth and Tarrant County residents will have trouble affording their homes.

Rosiland Rucker is one of them.

Through a home ownership program that teaches first-time home buyers about credit, budgets and other aspects of home ownership, she receives help paying her mortgage amounting to about half her monthly payment.

She works a part-time, minimum wage job through a Social Security program for those with disabilities. Without the federal subsidy, Rucker won’t be able to cover the cost of the small Crowley home she shares with her dog.

“I’ll be out on the street, God forbid,” she said.

More than 4,700 Fort Worth households receive rental help through the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher program, previously known as Section 8. Another 730 households are assisted through various HUD-funded homeless programs, according to officials with Fort Worth Housing Solutions.

HUD has funded those programs through the end of February, director Mary-Margaret Lemons said. The housing authority has a cushion that may allow them to extend some form of assistance and is actively working on a back up plan. The authority receives about $49 million a year, or about $4 million a month, from HUD.

“Luckily we’re not such a small housing authority that we depend on HUD to keep our lights on,” she said. “We’re trying to be patient and optimistic.”

Tarrant County’s Community Development department distributes nearly $2 million a month to households through its Housing Choice Voucher program, department director Patricia Ward said. Another $321,000 is available for homeless programs. Those funds also will dry up after Feb. 28 but other HUD-funded programs, like community development block grants, won’t be impacted.

Grants are doled out at once annually and don’t rely on contracts with the federal government the way housing vouchers do, she said.

Read Next

Staff writers Gordon Dickson and Luke Ranker contributed to this report.

In the first two weeks of the shutdown, 800,000 federal workers and their families missed a paycheck. The New York Times reached out to some of them to hear their stories.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Diane Smith, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 1997. Smith, who has covered municipal government, immigration and education, has won multiple awards for reporting, most recently as part of a Star-Telegram team recognized by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for coverage of child abuse and Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail area.
Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.