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‘A pawn in a political game:’ Billings furloughed worker speaks out about government shutdown

Posted at 3:07 PM, Jan 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 18:07:24-05

BILLINGS- As the days tally up in the government shutdown, federal workers around Montana say at this point, all they can do is hope and wait.

“Primarily boredom. And wondering how I’m going to pay my mortgage,” said Jim Ridgeway.

Ridgeway works for the Department of the Interior as a real estate appraiser and has been a federal employee for over 20 years. He works primarily on tribal lands across Montana and Wyoming.

He’s been furloughed before, but never for this long. He said through it all, he’s stayed in communication with other workers who are also not being paid.

“We would all like to have something to do,” said Ridgeway.

He was notified of the government shutdown just days before Christmas.

“I have just been sitting since, like all of the rest of the people in my office,” said Ridgeway.

And Ridgeway said even if he wanted to go into work and volunteer, he was told he can’t. On top of that, some workers he knows are heading to work and not being paid.

“Everybody that is involved in the process is suffering to some extent, and it’s all financial related. And we will go back to work when we are called,” he said.

Ridgeway said he has savings and is close to retirement. Still, he is not sure where his next mortgage payment is coming from, and he has incoming utility bills. He also pays for his daughter’s college tuition, and if that payment doesn’t come she won’t be able to attend.

“I’m better off than most in that I do have some savings and I can fall back,” he said.

The ongoing partial government shutdown has already broken the record to become the longest in U.S. history.

Ridgeway is among the many furloughed or working-without-pay employees, who are fed up with the scenario playing out in Washington, D.C.

“I do get concerned with being a hostage as a pawn in the political game that I have no control over and none of us do,” he said.

And things weren’t looking good for a resolution by Thursday as lawmakers failed to agree on competing proposals to reopen the government.

“The president is to lead the nation, but Congress has to fund it and obviously Congress isn’t funding it and the president doesn’t like that,” he said. “Until they can get together and agree on something we are just pawns in the middle with no say one way or another.”

As for his co-workers, Ridgeway said some are taking up second jobs or side work to make it through.

“Some of the people are currently working, some are being fully paid and others are being forced to work for the duration,” he said. “One of my coworkers had two young daughters another is in breast cancer surgery recovery.”

Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News