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Seattle Federal Employees Head to Work, Glad Shutdown Is Over

Andy Slabaugh
The federal building in downtown Seattle filled up with workers again after Congress reopened the government

Relief. That was the main reaction from government workers heading back to their jobs at the federal building in downtown Seattle after a couple weeks of forced time off due to the partial government shutdown. A steady stream of people headed through the revolving doors even before sunrise.

Debbie Barrett, who works as a legal assistant in the office of chief counsel of the IRS, was one of them.

“My alarm went off at 3. I bounded right out of bed and came in here, even though I knew the second I opened up my email, it was just going to be a mess,” Barrett said. “It was still nice to be here.”

The time off proved financially stressful for Barrett, who says she turned into “a hermit” to avoid spending money, and had to take out a bank loan to cover her bills.

Scrambled Eggs and Cheese

“It got down to the point when I did get the loan, I was eating scrambled eggs and cheese. That was it,” Barrett said, laughing. “Mother Hubbard’s cupboard was way beyond bare.”

Other federal workers said they didn’t feel as heavy of a financial impact, but if the shutdown had lasted any longer, they would have. For Katherine, who works in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a vocational rehab counselor, the biggest stress came from feeling like she left the veterans she works with in the lurch.

“My focus is supposed to be on the vets and I couldn’t even go in to do even desk work,” she said. “I did not like that. Definitely not fair to them.”

Katherine declined to say how she feels about Congress. But Barrett says she’s frustrated. She spent the past couple of weeks glued to her TV, waiting for news about when lawmakers would reach a deal and reopen federal offices.

“Very disappointed, just very disappointed, as any citizen of this country has a right to be right now,” she said.

Barrett said her financial situation isn’t totally resolved. Even though Congress voted to approve back pay for all government workers who were furloughed, she doesn’t know when she’ll get paid that money.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.