Dennis Lyons

When you bring your car to a mechanic or call a home repair professional, there are five words you never want to hear:

“I’ve never seen that before.”

That’s what we were told last week, after the screen on our furnace thermostat went blank.

The light on the thermostat still shone. The heat still worked. But the small screen that displays the temperature, among other things, showed nothing. Rebooting, checking connections and making sure a circuit breaker hadn’t been tripped all proved inconsequential.

The call to the HVAC company we use went out early Monday morning. By Monday afternoon we’d heard those five dreaded words and encountered our first unexpected expense of the new year.

I’m willing to bet it won’t be the last.

Unexpected expenses are inevitable and can be tough enough to deal with in normal circumstances.

Just imagine what it would be like if you were suddenly not getting paid.

Unfortunately, some of our neighbors here in the Valley are doing more than imagining. They’re experiencing it firsthand because of the government shutdown.

Daily Item reporter Marcia Moore spoke with some employees at the Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood last week. Brian Young a teacher at the facility, spoke of the  “tremendous pressure and stress” of not getting paid. Recreation specialist Lisa Thomas stated the obvious: “Not everyone can afford to live without a paycheck.” 

Right now there are about 800 people at Allenwood working without pay, according to Shane Fausey, president of the local union that represents those workers. Nationally, about 800,000 federal workers are feeling a similar financial pinch.

According to a story last week in the New York Times, about 420,000 of the workers affected are classified as essential. These include many of the employees at Allenwood. They are working without knowing when they will next be paid. About 380,000 other federal workers, the Times reported, have been furloughed.

The shutdown is affecting agencies nationwide. The three hardest-hit are Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Agriculture. In addition, the Times reported, thousands of other people who work for contractors — cleaning offices or serving food — are missing wages.

This is unconscionable.

Regardless of who you choose to blame or what side of the border wall argument you’re on, does anybody really feel it is appropriate to put everyday working people through this?

It’s bad enough to have two sides backed into corners refusing to compromise. That, sadly, is the way of the political world in 2019.

Catching innocent bystanders in the middle of this fight, however, is cruel and unnecessary punishment.

We’re talking people’s livelihood here. Sure, when this is finally over, history shows the workers will likely eventually get paid. We have no idea at this point how long that will take 

For now, though, as Lisa Thomas told Marcia Moore for her story last week, “You feel like you’re a pawn to the people in Washington, D.C.”

Both sides of the political aisle understand that border security is important. So do most Americans.

But using American workers as leverage in the dispute is shameful. 

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