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WILMINGTON, N.C. — While the nation's capital is stuck in a standstill and the partial government shutdown rolls forward with no clear end in sight, the situation for many federal employees across the country is getting more real by the day.
Matthew Craviotto, an air traffic control specialist based at Wilmington's International Airport, had only been in his home for a few months when Hurricane Florence struck the region in September. The storm unleashed record rain and submerged much of his house. In all, he estimates he suffered roughly $70,000 in damage.
He relied on shelter from friends for several months and drained much of his savings.
It's situations like this that get exacerbated if a regular paycheck doesn't arrive due to a lapse in government funding and the inability of Congress and the White House to come to an agreement over funding for a border wall.
"I need to get paid to support my son, to pay my bills, to finish my house," Craviotto said, worried about regular expenses like gas and daycare for his 5 year old. "It’s been a struggle not knowing where the money's going to come from, even before the shutdown."
"That was my rainy day fund and it rained," he added.
Craviotto is part of roughly 80 percent of the federal workforce based outside of the Washington, D.C. Employees like him are considered "essential" — still going to work every day during the shutdown, but unsure when their next paycheck could arrive. An estimated 800,000 federal workers don't know when they’ll see their next paycheck (around 420,000 of those are still on the job, and around 380,000 are furloughed).
Craviotto said he wonders "how long it's going to be, how much to budget, how much food I'm going to stock up."
Leaders in the nation’s capital, he said, "need to think about the people that are actually working for the money and who actually rely on this money to support their families and the bills that they’re working for."
One of his colleagues, fellow air traffic control specialist Bill Kirby, the local representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, is the sole provider for his young family that also include his wife and their baby daughter Ella.
"It's frustrating," he said. "The ball keeps on spinning, stuff doesn't stop. You've still gotta keep on paying your bills, pay off Christmas gifts and toys and stuff and do everything else you gotta do. Not knowing when you're going to get paid next is a little worrisome."
Both Craviotto and Kirby don't consider themselves political people or aligned with any political party. They don't place a specific blame on either side, but just want a resolution from government leaders soon.
"They are elected members that get paid to do a job just like how I'm getting paid to do a job," Kirby said. "I understand there’s politics and ideas and that kind of thing, but at the same time we've got to get things accomplished."
Several hours north up the coast of North Carolina, the shutdown is also impacting the lives many of the workers at the major Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City.
Willard Jenkins, a lead mechanic, voted for and continues to support President Donald Trump, but he urged the president to strike a deal with Democrats and loosen current funding demands for a wall, for the sake of families like his.
He and his wife, Jamie, a data analyst for the Coast Guard, were both furloughed on Dec. 26. The couple said they have a home mortgage, car payments and their daughter's student loans to pay off. They also cancelled a trip to Ohio over Christmas to visit Willard's father.
"We don’t want to send letters to the creditors that we can't pay our bills," Jamie Jenkins said. "We want them to do their jobs so we can do ours."
Unlike the "essential" federal employees who are guaranteed to receive backpay when the government is funded again, the Jenkins couple will rely on action from Congress to provide backpay to furloughed workers like them.
The couple indicated they planned to begin filling out paperwork to apply for unemployment benefits.
"If this did not impact my household directly, I'd tell him to stand tall because something needs to be done," Willard Jenkins said of the president and a barrier at the border. "But because it does and it impacts my wife and me, if this continues we wouldn't have a paycheck. I hope there is some kind of agreement, some kind of settlement because it's directly impacting me. But I definitely understand where Donald Trump is coming from."
"Peoples' lives are at stake," he added, offering a personal message for the president and leaders in Congress: "Get rid of politics. Think of the people who voted you in. You have a lot of people across the country that put you in office so think of them before you think of yourself."