For the first time in decades, Karen Ricks and Veronica Sorrell said they had to file for unemployment.
Ironically, both have jobs.
Both work for the Internal Revenue Service. Ricks, of Darby, has been there for more than 30 years, and Sorrell, of Philadelphia, has been there for nearly 20.
But Ricks and Sorrell, who each described themselves as the breadwinner for their family, won’t receive paychecks while the partial federal government shutdown drags on. The shutdown entered its 18th day on Tuesday.
“Our standard of living is based on our paycheck, not on an unemployment check,” Ricks said as she stood beside Sorrell. “Whatever I get from unemployment, hopefully that will feed us, but I still don’t know if it’s going to pay my other bills."
Sorrell added: “I’m trying to figure out how to pay my mortgage, how to pay my car note, how to feed my family. It’s getting kind of tough. We got bills to pay. … We don’t have the funds but we’re going to make do.”
The women joined more than 100 of their fellow federal workers and congressional leaders for a rally in Independence National Historical Park to call on Congress and President Donald Trump to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government.
The American Federation of Government Employees Local 2058, which represents employees working at Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and other agencies in Philadelphia, organized the rally.
Park Ranger Adam Duncan, president of AFGE Local 2058, said that if the the Founding Fathers could find common ground and write the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, then modern-day elected representatives can do the same.
“That’s what we want Washington, D.C., to do, our officials: Get it done,” he said. “Get these buildings back open. End the shutdown once and for all.”
The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 over a disagreement between Trump and congressional leaders over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
More than 800,000 federal workers are furloughed or working without pay. The shutdown affects the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, among others.
Phil Glover, national vice president of AFGE District 3 who helped organize the event, said the majority of the federal workers caught up in the shutdown live outside the Beltway.
“A lot of people think the federal government is just D.C.,” Glover said. “Eighty-five percent of the federal workforce works outside of Washington.”
During the shutdown, Independence National Historical Park, including the Liberty Bell Center, remains closed, but the Independence Visitor Center is open during normal hours.
Trump said in a tweet that he will speak during a nationally televised address about what he described as a humanitarian and national security crisis on the Mexican border at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
“I campaigned on Border Security, which you cannot have without a strong and powerful Wall,” Trump said in a statement Tuesday. “Our Southern Border has long been an ‘Open Wound,’ where drugs, criminals (including human traffickers) and illegals would pour into our Country."
The current 18-day shutdown is tied for the second longest in U.S. history and marks the third shutdown of the Trump presidency. The longest government shutdown lasted 21 days in 1995.
The shutdown drew condemnation from local congressional leaders.
U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-2, called it a "disgrace."
“The tragedy of this is: It is completely unnecessary," he said. "This Trump shutdown is a phony shutdown.”
“This is no game,” said U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3. “The fact of the matter is this is your lives. … We got to get you back to work.”
“You cannot run the federal government like a business,” said U.S Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5. “You cannot stiff your workers and you cannot stiff the American people.”
Their words drew applause and chants of “Enough is enough!” from the protesters.
Also attending the rally were state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-7, and U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1.
Lynn Cox, president of AFGE Local 2032, which represents those working for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said she’s working with employees to apply for unemployment and loans during the shutdown.
“I told them, 'Do not be ashamed to take a hardship from your 401(k),'” Cox said. “Do what you can do to survive. Right now, people live paycheck to paycheck."
As for Ricks and Sorrell, the IRS employees, both were looking forward to the end of the shutdown.
“I’m hoping that the Senate will go head and vote,” Ricks said. “I think if they just forget about it [funding for Trump’s wall], go ahead and override [the president’s] veto and work out that wall stuff later, that’s what’s best for the country."