U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) announced that he will be inviting a federal employee who works in Petersburg, Va., as his guest to the President’s State of the Union address tonight. Cheryl Nazar, a nurse at a federal prison, is one of the thousands of federal employees who were hurt by the 35-day government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.
“As a public servant working one of the most dangerous jobs in the country, for 35 days Cheryl had to continue providing care for inmates, despite the fact that her own safety and security was being compromised by the government shutdown,” said Sen. Warner. “Since President Trump never took the time to meet with any federal workers during the shutdown, I hope Cheryl’s presence at the State of the Union will send a message that there are real people with real families who shouldered the burden of his shutdown, and make clear to the President that we can’t afford another.”
On December 22, 2018, funding lapsed for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, furloughing up to half its 36,000-person staff and forcing the rest, including prison guards, to work for the duration without pay. During the shutdown, correctional officers were frequently forced to work extended shifts, resulting in potentially dangerous levels of fatigue. Other staff without the proper training were sometimes called upon to fill in for prison guards who, struggling to support their families without their regular paychecks, called out sick in order to work second jobs – leading to understaffed conditions that put the safety of prison employees like Cheryl Nazar, a nurse, at risk.
Making ends meet
As she faced increasingly dangerous conditions at work, Cheryl was also struggling to make ends meet without a paycheck. To weather the shutdown, Cheryl and her husband had to dip into their limited savings, which were close to exhausted by the time the government re-opened after 35 days. The Nazars also had to put their plans to buy a new home on hold as a result of the financial uncertainty caused by the shutdown. Although Cheryl received her back pay on Thursday, January 31, there is a growing fear that President Trump may again shut down the government when funding runs out on February 15 – once again putting Cheryl’s paycheck and security at risk.
Virginia is home to more than 170,000 federal employees and thousands of federal government contractors. During the 35-day government shutdown, Sen. Warner focused on listening to Virginians affected by the shutdown and sharing their stories. He has introduced legislation to end the threat of future shutdowns and protect federal government workers from being used as pawns in political negotiations. To reduce the financial hardships caused by the recent 35-day shutdown, Sen. Warner introduced legislation that the President signed into law, securing back pay for federal workers, and he has also sponsored bipartisan legislation to provide back pay to low- and middle-wage federal contractor service employees affected by the government shutdown.