In Washington, D.C., they’re talking about big stuff: billions of dollars for a towering wall stretching across the U.S. border with Mexico.
Ronza Jordan is focused on the little things, like explaining to her 12-year-old son that, for the time being, things are going to be a bit tight at home.
“He understands that he needs to make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for [school] lunch instead of using his lunch card,” said Jordan, 48, a single mother and a project officer with the regional branch of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Loop.
Like tens of thousands of federal workers across the city and the rest of the Midwest, Jordan, who normally commutes from Aurora, has been staying close to home, anxiously wondering when the partial government shutdown — the second-longest in U.S. history — might come to an end. Of the 800 or so EPA people in Jordan’s Loop office, only half a dozen or so are still on the job, those deemed essential for operations, said Nicole Cantello, chief steward of AFGE Local 704, which represents mostly EPA workers.
Jordan says she’s been following the news, but she didn’t watch President Donald Trump’s speech on Tuesday when he made his case on prime time TV for the funding he said he needs to complete the wall and end the shutdown.
“I have really no interest in listening to the lies,” Jordan said. “I knew he was not going to be reasonable and rational about what was going on.”
In the meantime, Jordan, who has been with the EPA for 16 years, says she’s been talking with her colleagues about going to work for Uber, Lyft or another of the ride-hailing services.
Uylaine Barringer, 69, another downtown EPA worker, has been fretting about hay — among other things.
She takes care of retired Chicago Police Department horses on the three acres she has in Princeton, about 120 miles southwest of the city. A few days ago, she noticed her hay barn was starting to look a little empty. In the winter, her two horses go through about 80 bales in a month, and at $6.50 per bale, it adds up quickly.
Barringer told her “hay guy” that because of the shutdown, she simply didn’t have the cash to pay for the horse food.
“He told me, ‘Don’t worry. I know where you live,’ That took a big weight of my shoulders,” said Barringer, a compliance officer with the hazardous waste branch
Barringer said she’s thankful her children are grown up and no longer at home.
“I’m under a silent stress,” she said. “If I had kids, I’d be screaming.”
Samuel Kitchen, 52, a federal correctional officer at the Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown, pays $850 a month in child support to his ex-wife. He’s required to be at work, even though he’s not getting paid and won’t be able to make his child support payment due Monday.
He said morale at the federal lockup, where there are about 250 employees, is low at the moment.
“They are frustrated — more frustrated than angry,” Kitchen said. “The fear is starting to set in of, how am I going to make my mortgage [payment]?”
More people than is typical are calling in sick, Kitchen said, because they can’t afford day care.
And Kitchen isn’t getting much sympathy from the inmates.
“They’re more worried about getting out,” Kitchen said. “They don’t care if we’re getting paid or not.”