When taking a ride sharing service like Uber, I love to small talk with the drivers. Every Uber or Lyft contractor has a story and some rationale for letting total strangers into their back seat for a small fare.
On New Year’s Eve, our driver was Marshall. He is a United States resident originally from Zimbabwe. Marshall has a young, two-month-old daughter at home with his wife, who just completed nursing school.
Marshall also had a reason for being behind the wheel in downtown Des Moines during one of the busiest days of the year for cabbies. While everyone else danced the night away at parties and toasted the New Year with champagne, Marshall spent the last day of 2018 furloughed.
He works in the Medicare division of the federal Social Security Administration, and due to the prolonged government shutdown, Marshall is currently not receiving a paycheck.
The U.S. government is in its 16th day of a partial shutdown. The previous Republican-controlled U.S. House and Senate passed a deal to re-open the government before Christmas, but President Donald Trump vetoed the measure because it did not provide a requested $5.8 billion for a wall at the U.S./Mexico border. After the Democrats took control of the House this month, they also passed a funding bill without money for the border wall, knowing the Republican Senate would refuse to vote on the legislation.
The president has calculated the political pressure to re-open the government, end the shutdown and give federal workers their pay will force the Democrats to cave and deliver the border wall he promised during his 2016 campaign. The Democrats see their big win in the 2018 midterm election as a mandate to resist Trump’s anti-immigration agenda.
As the politicians fight, the effects of shuttered federal offices are being felt around the country. CNN reported Sunday, 95 percent staffing at the federal agency responsible for overseeing SNAP — or food stamps — has been cut. This is causing low-income families to worry about increasingly bare cupboards.
Farmers’ applications for a $12 billion emergency aid package to alleviate financial pain from President Trump’s 2018 trade war with China are on hold.
Ironically, the Department of Homeland Security which operates the U.S. Border Patrol — the employees who secure the U.S./Mexico line — is also without funding during the shutdown.
Marshall was making the best of a bad situation. I’m not sure if his smiley demeanor on NYE was part of his own naturally positive outlook on life or he knew the right way to get a good tip — perhaps both. But the 800,000 federal employees who went through the holidays without pay should never again have to worry if the latest round of political gamesmanship will steal their livelihood.
These public servants work for us, and so do the politicians who have shut down the services we rely on. It’s time to tell them a single policy position is not worth risking our economy, halting a functional bureaucracy or losing our quality public servants.
Contact Mike Mendenhall at