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Whether Personal Or Political, Kentuckians Feel Impact Of Government Shutdown

Amina Elahi
Sharon Baker

The partial government shutdown is now in its 26th day, stretching the already record-length closure of some federal agencies. In Louisville, some of Senator Mitch McConnell’s constituents hold him responsible. But,  other residents are more concerned about their well-being than whether the Senate Majority Leader is to blame. 

Sharon Baker lives in a tidy, red-brick house in the small city of Shively, southwest of Louisville. There’s a ribbon angel hanging on her front door — watching over her, she said.

Baker is a federal mediator with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She’s also a regional leader for the American Federation of Government Employees.

And, as one of thousands of furloughed federal employees, she hasn’t worked since the partial government shutdown began last month.

The shutdown has already stretched a record 25 days as the president and members of Congress have failed to agree on funding for a border security wall. In Louisville, some employees deemed essential are continuing to work and get paid. Others, like Baker, missed their first paycheck last week.

Baker (pictured above) said she’s lived through shutdowns before. But this one’s different. She said it seems like those in Washington aren’t working together. And she blamed Republicans, especially the president and one of her senators, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I believe he is serving Mr. Trump,” Baker said of McConnell. “And he is ignoring the constituents that put him in office.”

She said she’s tried calling McConnell’s office, only to be put through to other locations where the only option is to leave a voice message. Baker said it feels as though federal workers are being held hostage over a wall, which she sees as less important than the opioid crisis or different infrastructure issues.

With savings to fall back on and generous neighbors, Baker said she is managing. But she is concerned about her medical bills and mortgage payments. Still, she said she’s better off than some of her co-workers and others in the commonwealth.

“Kentucky’s hurting because who is leading Kentucky, which is Sen. McConnell, and who is leading the country, which is Mr. Trump, are co-conspirators,” Baker said. “And they have stopped any movement of us going back to work and the issue of border security being resolved.”

Support For The Wall

Those who blame McConnell are focusing on the wrong party, said Tres Watson, the communications director for the Republican Party of Kentucky. He said his group has heard plenty of support for continuing to fight for border wall funding.

“Nearly 100 percent of the calls we get on a daily basis are people who are urging Sen. McConnell, Sen. Paul, the rest of our delegation to stand with the president and to help protect our border,” Watson said.

He said he is concerned about the effect the shutdown is having on workers and others.

“Nobody wants to see the government in the partial shutdown condition, but when the alternative is not funding border security to the level that the president’s requested, I think the people that we’re hearing from want to see that done,” Watson said.

‘Sometimes it’s enough’

While politics is a focus for some Americans, there are people in Louisville with more immediate concerns.

Vanity Greathouse was outside the Federal Courthouse in Louisville on Tuesday. She said she thinks the shutdown is “horrible,” and that it could affect her because she is trying to apply for food stamps. That program could run out of funding in February.

“I hope the government opens back up (and) everything just starts getting back to normal,” Greathouse said.

Brandon Norman said he was able to pick up his Social Security check at the courthouse without an issue. He is fresh out of rehab, homeless and looking for work. He said losing government services could push those in poverty into worse situations.

“Where a lot of us come from, like me, it’s violence and it’s a dark place,” he said. “The little bit of help that the government does give, sometimes it’s enough. So now it’s like, what’s next?”

The shutdown is a threat to some people’s personal stability, as well as the stability of the country. That’s according to a man named Robert, who would only give his first name. He uses food stamps and Social Security benefits.

“Taking the benefits away from us is like taking our freedom, our rights,” he said. “Everything the Constitution stands for, it looks like it just evaporated when they had the government shutdown.”

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