Federal workers, including those living in the Roaring Fork Valley supporting the national forest and the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, will miss their first paycheck today on account of the federal government shutdown, which is now entering its fourth week.
The fallout is deepening for the 150 year-round employees of the White River National Forest, which stretches from the Roaring Fork Valley to Summit County.
Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said he is not aware of any specific programs available to aid furloughed federal workers. The national Forest Service office has provided a form letter that workers can send to their landlords or mortgage-note holders requesting leniency on payments. The shutdown’s impact has led the Forest Service to waive a standing rule that any worker’s outside employment be subject to approval. While the shutdown progresses, Forest Service employees are not required to get their supervisor’s permission to take on supplemental work, be it waiting tables, driving an Uber or doing construction.
Normal ethical standards still apply. For example, a Forest Service recreation administrator could not moonlight for a company that works with the feds on permitting.
Stories are circulating locally of furloughed workers getting together for potlucks and doing what they can to support each other during a difficult time.
Some federal employees are required to continue working, and will be paid only when Congress makes an appropriation to reopen the government. These include Transportation Security Administration staff and air traffic controllers working at the airport.
In past shutdowns, furloughed workers were eventually paid for the time they would have been working when the government reopened, but that is subject to change based on the whims of Congress.
Workers affected by the shutdown could be good candidates for emergency assistance offered by Pitkin County. The program is run by the county’s economic assistance staff and is funded with a $40,000 annual grant from the Healthy Community Fund.
Emergency assistance grants of up to $1,000 are available for people who come upon unexpected hard times and cannot make ends meet to cover housing payments, utilities or health-care costs. Sam Landercasper, economic services manager for Pitkin County, said program administrators look for applicants in need of one-time help due to an emergency in order to maintain self-sufficiency.
“A shutdown like this could specifically fit the bill,” he said.
To qualify, the applicant must be a U.S. citizen who has lived in Pitkin County for at least six months. Applicants must visit the economic assistance office in the Schultz Health and Human Services building, open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to fill out an application in person. Payments are never made to the applicant, Landercasper clarified, but go from the county directly to creditors.