WASHINGTON - According to President Donald Trump, federal workers affected by the US government shutdown support him as he insists on no deal until Congress funds a wall on the Mexican border.
But rather than cheering him on, many of the 800,000 workers forced either to work without salaries or go on unpaid leave are voicing growing anxiety as they wonder how to pay approaching bills or buy holiday gifts for their children.
After past shutdowns, Congress quickly ensured that federal workers were retroactively paid. But the end of the month is approaching with no headway on reopening the government.
Kevin, a statistician at the Census Bureau, said he recently relocated to Washington with his wife and 2-and-a-half-year-old son from North Carolina in search of the long-term stability of a government job.
But he said he used up his savings to finance the move and that his son has required early intervention services for delayed development.
"Taking care for a kid with special needs is draining physically, mentally and financially," he told AFP in an email.
"Our budget is really tight and getting tighter. I no longer purchase clothes for myself and I cut my own hair."
He may also have to put his rent on a credit card, added Kevin, asking that his surname be withheld because of rules against government employees speaking on politics.
Kevin's colleagues have reassured him that they have survived similar situations. The shutdown is the third this year, after 2 brief funding gaps, and another stoppage in 2013 was resolved after 16 days.
But Kevin is less optimistic this time, saying Trump, facing multiple crises, was acting like a "cornered animal."
Asked Wednesday on a surprise trip to Iraq how long the shutdown will last, Trump replied: "Whatever it takes."
Syl, who works at the Internal Revenue Service, said she only had enough savings to pay her upcoming rent and a few other expenses after spending on travel and gifts for the holidays.
While acknowledging that "I don't have it as bad as other employees" with children, she said that she resented "being used as a political pawn for the wall."
PANIC AS BILLS APPROACH
One of the major unions of federal workers, the National Treasury Employees Union, said nearly 80 percent of members indicated in a survey they were "very concerned" about paying for housing and other living expenses.
Some government employees and their families shared their predicaments online with the hashtag #ShutdownStories.
@katyjb88 wrote that her husband was in the Coast Guard and that they had one child with another on the way. They live in New York where they pay more than $2,000 a month in rent.
While active military are exempted from the shutdown, the Coast Guard is affected. Even if they are paid later, she wrote, "that won't help with bills due on the 1st."
For others, including @Ancient_Scout, consequences are even more immediate.
"Broke my lease to accept new fed job for which I have to attend 7 months of training in another state. Training canceled with shutdown," @Ancient_Scout tweeted.
"Homeless. Can't afford short(?)-term housing/have to work full-time for no pay/returning Xmas presents."
@juliedotburr said that as a government contractor she will not get paid at all so long as the shutdown persists.
"I am a single mom in panic mode. Picking up extra shifts at my 2nd job but it won't pay the rent!" she wrote.
SOLIDARITY WITH WORKERS
Signs of solidarity are growing in Washington, where lawmakers return Thursday with no deal in sight.
The Z-Burger restaurant is offering hamburgers free to federal employees, while Spanish chef Jose Andres, a longstanding critic of Trump, has invited the workers for a free sandwich in all of his Washington restaurants from 2pm to 5 pm.
But there are occasional signs of support for Trump, who has made a wall and a tough line on immigration the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign and said Tuesday that federal workers "want border security."
@InsiderIRS, a Twitter user with no followers as of Wednesday afternoon, wrote that federal workers bore a constitutional responsibility to defend against "invasion."
"As an IRS employee, I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with my furloughed comrades to support the sovereignty of our nation," @InsiderIRS wrote.