As government reopens, federal workers look forward to paying bills

Garth Connor works for the Philadelphia office of the EPA and worries about pollution going unchecked, and paying his daughter’s college tuition. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Garth Connor works for the Philadelphia office of the EPA and worries about pollution going unchecked, and paying his daughter’s college tuition. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

President Donald Trump has offered some relief to sidelined federal workers by reopening the government after the longest temporary shutdown in history. He promised workers back pay “as soon as possible” for the weeks of missed work.

That will be a big help to Garth Connor, a scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, who was furloughed during the shutdown. He earns most of the household income, so he and his wife had to stretch what little finances they had.

“We’ve been going on for about a month-and-a-half on one paycheck,” said the South Philadelphia resident.

During the shutdown, Connor set aside the big bills to prioritize less costly expenses.

Since late December, 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or working without pay for the 35-day shutdown. The federal freeze caused disruptions from airports to the IRS.

With the announcement of the temporary reopening, however, Connor says he’ll have a chance to ”start to pay all the bills that are due Jan. 31, Feb. 1.”

“As soon as the check comes in, I am going to pull all the bills that have been stacking up in my house,” he said. “I was afraid to pay them.”

The government will stay open through Feb. 15 as Congress and the president work on a deal for funding border security.

As he announced the reopening Friday, Trump renewed his case for a border wall and maintained he might again shut down the government over it.

“If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb. 15 again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency,” Trump said.

The president has said he could declare a national emergency to fund the border wall unilaterally if Congress doesn’t provide the money. Such a move would almost certainly face legal hurdles.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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