For Júlia Quintana, a janitor at the Department of Agriculture, the government shutdown isn’t about building a border wall or standing up to President Trump. It’s about groceries.
More specifically, it’s about being able to feed the three people living in her home: Ms. Quintana, her disabled mother and her 3-year-old grandson.
“I had put a lot of food in the freezer and we’re taking it all out. The last fish and the last shrimp and the last chicken is all we’re eating now,” said Ms. Quintana, 54, who’s worked for nearly three decades cleaning government offices since she came to the United States from El Salvador. “I’m worried about not having food this week.”
As the government shutdown continues into a third week, we’re starting to hit the pain point, where the impacts will begin to ripple far beyond the 800,000 affected federal employees, many of whom will miss their first paycheck this week. Those workers are already cutting their spending, meaning that everyone from the owner of City Cup Cafe in Oakland, Calif., to landlords in Duluth, Minn., are feeling the effects.
There’s a lot that the government does that’s been put on hold, like collecting critical scientific data, providing business loans and funding some health care services.
And then there’s the world of government contractors — a sizable industry that relies on the federal government for their income, including not only the usual suspects, like big defense contractors, but security guards and cleaning services like the one that employs Ms. Quintana.
Ms. Quintana makes about $600 a week from her work at the Department of Agriculture. A second, part-time job cleaning at the Department of Housing and Urban Development provides some additional income. She hasn’t gotten paid from either since the shutdown began, before Christmas, and she’s scared of what the future might bring.
“Months or years?” she asked, through a translator, when told on Friday of Mr. Trump’s suggestion that the shutdown could continue almost indefinitely. “Oh my god, we’re going to die of hunger.
Her story is just one example of the economic damage wrought by a prolonged shutdown.
If it lasts into February, it could mean severe cuts in food stamps for 38 million low-income Americans. Economists have warned that if it stretches into March, the shutdown could shake consumer confidence and impact the economy.
Contractors are in a particularly untenable situation. Because they work for private companies, they’ve never received back pay when the government reopens. Advocates are drafting legislation to change that, but it remains far from certain whether it can actually pass.
“The damage is already done,” says Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ S.E.I.U., a labor union that includes 2,000 building service workers caught up in the shutdown. “Our members don’t have savings to rely on. They don’t have much of a cushion. This is incredibly painful.”
The union has become a de facto social service organization, as Mr. Figueroa and others attempt to connect their low-wage workers with food pantries, churches and other organizations that can help them with basic needs like food and medicine.
During the 2013 shutdown, which lasted 16 days, Ms. Quintana borrowed about $1,500 to cover her bills, she said. It took her about six months to pay back the money because of the high interest rates. This time, she said, she’s going to try to borrow from family first.
Her message to President Trump and the Democrats? “The politicians should stop hurting people like us. There are thousands and thousands of poor people who don’t make a lot money and who are really suffering because of this.”