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No pay on payday

Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque remains closed as a federal government shutdown enters its third week. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Thousands of New Mexicans working for the federal government won’t get paid today, and some state and private groups are stepping in to help those affected.

The partial government shutdown reaches its 21st day today as Republicans and Democrats continue to spar over border wall funding.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said his office estimates that more than 7,600 federal employees work for closed agencies in New Mexico, the majority of whom are furloughed or working without pay.

But spokesman Ned Adriance said that figure could be on the low end since it doesn’t include numbers from the departments of Justice or Homeland Security.

“Morale is low,” said Jerald Rule, a national representative for the American Federation of Government Employees in Albuquerque, which represents around 10,000 federal employees in New Mexico. “It would be low anywhere where you have to work without getting paid and worry about your family, putting food on the table.”

Among the hardest hit are employees of the Transportation Security Administration, with most currently working without pay. Rule said pay for TSA agents starts at $30,000 and maxes out at $34,000.

A spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Sunport said TSA officers are continuing to show up for work amid some national reports of widespread numbers calling in sick.

“We are very lucky here at the Sunport, and really all throughout New Mexico, in that our team of TSA agents is very dedicated and committed to their jobs and the important role that they play,” Sunport spokeswoman Stephanie Kitts wrote the Journal in an email.

The state’s Department of Workforce Solutions is offering furloughed government employees and those working without pay the chance to file for unemployment benefits, an option that usually requires verification a person is looking for work.

Department spokeswoman Stacy Johnston said that 891 federal employees have already applied for benefits, nearly double the number from Wednesday.

“This administration appreciates and values federal workers so much because we know how important they are to our communities,” said new department Secretary-designate Bill McCamley in a news release. “… we’ll do everything in our power to get them through it as smoothly as possible.”

In the private sector, PNM announced Thursday it will keep the power on for federal employees behind on their bills during the shutdown, calling it “simply the right thing to do.”

Employees must provide PNM a copy of their furlough letter to be eligible.

On Thursday, Storehouse New Mexico, the state’s largest food pantry, announced that it will help families going without paychecks. Those seeking help need a photo ID for adults and a birth certificate for minors.

Storehouse New Mexico is at 106 Broadway SE, just south of Central. The pantry is generally open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings. A full calendar is on the organization’s website, www.StorehouseNM.org.

Thousands of sign-carrying federal employees protested in the nation’s capital on Thursday.

President Donald Trump was in McAllen, Texas, touring the U.S.-Mexico border. Udall called the trip a “photo opportunity.”

“Twenty days into this Trump shutdown and one day before federal workers will go without paychecks, families all across New Mexico are paying a steep price for this act of deliberate obstructionism,” Udall said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the 223,000 New Mexican families who use food stamps will continue to receive those benefits through February, the state Human Services Department announced Wednesday.

Prior to a U.S. Department of Agriculture decision earlier this week, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was funded only through Jan. 31.

“This option will be a big relief to the 455,000 New Mexicans who rely on the benefit to put food on their tables each day,” said Human Services Secretary-designate Dr. David Scrase in a news release.

February’s benefits are to be released early, by Jan. 20.

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