Shutdown taking its toll on local furloughed NASA workers

By Phil Archer - Reporter

HOUSTON - Sixteen days into the government shutdown and furloughed federal workers in Houston are feeling the pain.

Beth LeBlanc of Seabrook is a NASA employee who hasn't collected a paycheck since October 1. If the crisis continues, her husband, a NASA contract worker, expects to be furloughed at the end of the month.

"We've cut everything back," LeBlanc says. "We don't go out to eat. We don't go out for entertainment. We aren't driving places that aren't necessary. Anything that can be cut, we've cut."

The couple are parents of a teenager. They are quickly going through savings to pay bills. LeBlanc is filing for unemployment compensation and looking for odd jobs.

"It's going to get more and more difficult every day that this goes on. We're already looking at things to sell to try to help make ends meet," LeBlanc says.

Paychecks haven't been coming for more than 3,000 NASA employees, and thousands of contract workers who were furloughed from the Johnson Space Center. Across Houston and Texas, thousands more were sent home from military installations, federal parks, cemeteries, veterans' facilities, the state's three presidential libraries.

And if Congress can't agree on a compromise, more pain is coming soon. Money to run the federal courts runs out Friday. Federal Judge David Hittner says if that happens, employees in Houston federal courts will stay on the job but they won't be getting paid.

"We're going to keep open, we have been open and will remain open with full security, with jurors coming in and trials completely underway," Judge Hittner said Wednesday.

But even if an eleventh-hour deal is cobbled together in Washington, many employees will continue to struggle financially.

"We're still out paychecks," Leblanc says. "Until and unless they decide to give us back pay we're still short. So we still have to continue to find a way to make ends meet until we catch up."

Some agencies are offering employees a cover letter that explains to creditors that the shutdown is "beyond our employees' control and they will be returned to pay status as soon as possible."

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