WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) — Some 4,000 furloughed aviation workers are the latest casualty of political infighting in Washington.
Families used to making $75,000 a year are filing for unemployment benefits and worrying how to make mortgage, car and student loan payments, furloughed workers say.
“It really is scary,” said Michael MacDonald, a 54-year-old Federal Aviation Administration engineer who lives outside of Boston. “For one week, you think OK, we can handle one week. But now the reality is starting to set in — this is going to take six weeks or more.”
The FAA has been partially shut down for more than a week, with only air traffic controllers, mechanics and those integral to keeping planes flying safely on the job.
The plight of 4,000 FAA workers has been overshadowed by greater commotion over raising the debt limit and spending cuts. But lawmakers have also been at odds over approving a routine stop-gap funding measure for the agency.
With the House adjourned, the funding impasse will likely grind on for FAA employees who are feeling the pinch of a lack of paycheck, not to mention perks such as like 401(k) retirement benefit contributions.
MacDonald works on updating communications systems for the FAA. He’s worried about paying his mortgage, car loans and college tuition for his two kids. He filed for unemployment benefits last week and has been urging his colleagues to do the same.
“I’ve never been in this situation before,” said MacDonald, a 20-year veteran of the FAA.
While many employees, especially single parents, are terrified of spiraling into debt, other FAA workers say they’re just furious that they’ve become the victims of partisan wrangling in Washington.
“For this to be about something so petty, it’s ridiculous. And terribly arrogant and totally uncaring,” said Steve Alexander, 59, who lives near Sanford, N.C.
Alexander’s last day on the job was July 22, when he finished upgrading the landing system at Memphis International Airport.
While Alexander saved up over a year to withstand this furlough, as a union representative, he has been talking to panicked colleagues who can’t afford to be out of work for weeks on end.
The partial shutdown impacts more than just federal workers. The FAA had to stop hundreds of airport construction projects nationwide, which means some 24,000 construction workers are also out of work. Another 35,000 support workers, such as food service vendors, are also impacted, said Steve Sandherr CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America.
“This can’t go on a day longer, much less six weeks longer,” Randy Babbitt, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, told CNN on Tuesday