Larry Collins

Fear, Frustration Build for Furloughed FEMA Employees

Furloughed Federal Emergency Management Agency employees are growing more discouraged and more concerned for the American public if a disaster were to strike during the longest government shutdown in American history.

“When we lose those resources we lose something that made the country better and more ready for a natural disaster or a man-made disaster in this country,” said Steve Reaves, American Federation of Government Employees Local 4060 president.

Reaves is one of the furloughed employees and represents FEMA union members across the country as union president.

“There’s only 1,500 FEMA [union] employees that are working,” Reaves said. “I’ve already had six employees resign and we don’t have a large workforce at FEMA.”

“It would take our agency approximately a week to two weeks to call us all back in, so if a disaster happened today, it would be a week or two,” he added.

FEMA representatives dispute that approximation.

"We have staff that can deploy immediately, no recall needed," FEMA said in a statement to NBC 5. "FEMA has even deployed staff to Presidentially-declared disasters during this furlough."

FEMA said 75% of the workforce is working and getting paid.

"We still have people in Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria. We still have people for Harvey in Houston. We still have members in the wild fires for California," Reaves said.                

Many of the FEMA employees are dealing with personal financial disasters because of the furloughs, Reaves said.

“Our people aren’t getting paid. So, it is affecting their mortgages, their welfare, their health,” Reaves said. “They are reaching out to employment services. They are reaching out to unemployment. I filed for unemployment the other day with Texas Workforce Commission.”

Reaves said his union members are getting increasingly disheartened.

“It’s tiresome. It’s frustrating to be continually used as a political pawn,” he said. ”To use us in that manner and to use the budget in that manner -- it could potentially cost American lives.”

“Our major concern right now other than mortgage and rent and childcare -– which we are all worried about -- is the American public and their lives are at hand,” he added.

With no end in sight, he urges lawmakers to find a solution.

“Right now we are playing a political game with people’s lives and until people actually see bodies start piling up, they are not going to understand,” Reaves said.

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