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Federal workers tell tales of woe to Illinois’ congressional delegation

Tamara Dervin, an auditor with the Commodity Futures Trade Commission, listens during a roundtable discussion with other furloughed federal workers and Illinois congressional members Friday downtown.

Tamara Dervin, an auditor with the Commodity Futures Trade Commission, listens during a roundtable discussion with other furloughed federal workers and Illinois congressional members Friday downtown. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Furloughed federal employees painted a bleak picture of life without a paycheck Friday for some members of Illinois’ congressional delegation.

As the roundtable discussion got under way at the Metcalfe Federal Building downtown, U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky told the federal workers: “This is your show today.”

The group of politicians, which included U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, got an earful from about two dozen federal workers. The politicians were also urged to speak with a “louder” voice back in Washington, D.C.

There were stories of people facing evictions, workers unable to apply for unemployment benefits because they can’t get their hands on the right forms — as well as fears of what may happen without federal inspectors on the job.

“There is no one out there keeping track of potentially nefarious people who could poison people with impunity,” said Frank Lagunas, who works in the downtown office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Florence Cannon, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Food and Nutrition Service branch, worries that she may soon go from a USDA worker to a client.

“I never thought I’d be in a position that I’d have to get the benefits I monitor,” Cannon said.

Tamara Dervin, an auditor with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, told the delegation that she is a recent widow trying to support herself and a son, who turns 10 in February.

“I can’t plan a party because I don’t know when I’m going back to work,” Dervin said.

During his bedtime prayers, her son asks God for the shutdown to end, Dervin said.

The Democratic politicians listened, but also took the opportunity to bash President Donald Trump. The president is seeking billions of dollars for a U.S.-Mexico border wall in exchange for an end to the shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.

“We elected Donald Trump to lead and manage this government, not to turn the lights out and shut it down,” Durbin said.

Schakowsky called the shutdown “scandalous” and promised to take the stories she heard Friday back to Washington to share with her colleagues.

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