WASHINGTON – An hour and a half after midnight Thursday,George Schlaffer found out he could return to work.
The 65-year-old IRS revenue agent,like thousands of other government employees,went 16 days without going into work after the government shut down Oct. 1.
Schlaffer and his wife,Irene,60,who is retired from the IRS,were able to get through the shutdown without any particular financial strain.
“There weren’t any bills I wasn’t unable to pay due to the furlough,” Schlaffer said.
Although federal workers will be paid for the work they missed,he said the taxpayers paid a hefty price for workers like him to not work.
“When you think about it from the standpoint of the public good,this isn’t right,” he said. “The public has been inconvenienced for two weeks. The taxpayers are paying the back salaries while we’re sitting at home.”
Vice President Joe Biden greeted workers at the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday morning – he brought a few boxes of “coffee cake bites.”
When a reporter asked him about the deal that ended the shutdown,he said,“I’m happy it’s ended. It was unnecessary to begin with. I’m happy it’s ended.”
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough greeted employees returning to work at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House – where most presidential assistants and their staffs work.
Schlaffer,a Baltimore resident,is president of the National Treasury Employees Union Local Chapter 62.
During his time off,he was allowed to work for his union.
He spent two days attending meetings in Baltimore with other NTEU local chapter presidents and the national president.
“We talked about items to change in a new contract,” he said. “Our national union leaders were there. Almost all the chapter presidents showed up even though they didn’t have to.”
He also attended a press conference with NTEU National President Colleen Kelley,where he spoke to the media. His daughters heard his interview on NPR.
Kelley said in a news release that a high priority of the union is to get the employees it represents paid the money they are owed as soon as possible.
“Federal employees should not have to wait for the next scheduled paycheck to receive their back pay,” she said.
The back pay will be included in federal employees’ next paychecks,ABC News reported via the Associated Press Thursday.
Schlaffer said at the beginning of the shutdown he was upset about not being able to work but said he thought more about people who might be in more financial straits than he and his family,which includes two daughters,one in medical school and the other in nursing school.
“I know I was furious at the beginning and adamantly opposed to the shutdown,and I guess I still am,” he said. “After a while,I wondered why I was so upset. After a while,for me personally,it wasn’t a bad deal.”
David Fisher,32,came back to work at the Social Security Administration about a week after the shutdown began.
A disability attorney from Potomac,Md.,he helps judges write decisions when people appeal rulings made about their payments,makes recommendations and performs other tasks.
He said the SSA was deemed essential at the beginning of the shutdown but had a smaller-than-normal staff to work with.
“The judges and the skeleton staff were deemed essential from the start,but without support staff you need them to process it,sending it out,” Fisher said. “Just having a skeleton crew there,there’s not that much that can really get done.”
During his time off,he said he played pickup basketball games with other furloughed employees.
He and his wife Katrina,29,who works for an insurance agency,went through the shutdown cautiously.
“We got 60 percent of last week’s paycheck covering through Monday,” Fisher said. “My parents helped out with food shopping. We have a little bit of savings. We stayed low key.”
Despite ending the shutdown and averting the first-ever national default with Wednesday’s bill,the government may have to go through the entire shutdown and debt ceiling processes early next year.
“It’s a Band-Aid,” Fisher said. “If you’re in the government,you have to go through some stupid crap like this. I would have preferred to not have to go through this.”
Standard and Poor’s,a financial research and analysis company,announced Thursday that the estimated cost of shutting down the government is $24 billion.
Reach Sean Bradley at [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.