Furloughed workers volunteer during shutdown
Posted October 2, 2013
Durham, N.C. — For some furloughed workers, being off the job during the federal government shutdown doesn't mean they simply stop working.
About 30 U.S. Environment Protection Agency employees spent Wednesday morning volunteering at Herndon Park in Durham. They pruned trees and put down mulch, as well as picked up trash on a nearby roadway.
The EPA sent most of the 2,000 people who work at its complex of research labs and offices in Research Triangle Park home at noon Tuesday until Congress can settle its budget impasse. The RTP facility is the EPA's largest operation outside of Washington, D.C.
"I'd rather be able to go to work like everyone else. I'm just trying to take it one day at a time and be positive," Alison Davis said.
The local employees said it's tough not knowing when they will get their next paychecks, but volunteering helps them deal with the stress. They have already set up other projects as the shutdown continues, such as working at the Ronald McDonald House later this week.
"It's kind of in the blood of everyone you see out here – it's in my blood – community service, public service. It's kind of what we do," furloughed worker Scott Mathias said. "It's what you do every day in the office, and when you're not in the office, it's kind of hard to imagine what you should do other than help your community."
Mathias also worked for the EPA during the last government shutdown in the mid-1990s. He said with a laugh that the biggest difference between then and now is that he was a lot younger during the previous shutdown.
"We are trying to live and work in our communities, and it's frustrating when you can't do that," he said.
The shutdown is frustrating others across the Triangle as well.
Two officials from federal agencies have canceled speeches scheduled at Duke University, spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said.
Although federal student aid and research grants continue to be paid, Schoenfeld said, that could change at Duke and other universities if the congressional budget impasse drags on.
Timing is also critical to area housing authorities. Dallas Parks, chief executive of the Durham Housing Authority, said that if the Department of Housing and Urban Development remains closed into November, the agency wouldn't have any money to pay Section 8 housing landlords. It's unclear if that could lead to families being evicted from subsidized housing.
The North Carolina National Guard has already been hit by the shutdown, furloughing about 50 percent of its workforce. About 800 soldiers and airmen are still working across the state.