By Micha Green AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor

The government shutdown has been going on over a month and furloughed workers are hurting.

“It hurts physically and it hurts mentally,” said Tyra McClelland a member of the Local 727 union of the American Federation of Government Employees.

On the 31st day of the partial government shutdown, which fell on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday, almost 250 people gathered at Community of Hope Church in Temple Hills, Md., to share grievances, listen, offer hope and take information back to their communities regarding struggling furloughed workers and their families.

Furloughed workers, community volunteers and politicians came together for a town hall discussing the impact of the government shutdown on the African American community. (Photo by Micha Green)

Organized by the Rev. Leslye Dwight, the town hall was held to discuss the particular struggles facing the Black community during the partial shutdown.  Politicians and furloughed workers alike agreed that while the crisis is affecting all of America, African Americans are really feeling the sting of the furlough.

McClelland, who is being forced to work despite not getting paid, broke down what she calls, “furlough math.”

For McClelland, and many other families, furlough math is being forced to make certain sacrifices and decisions based off the fact that they’re not sure when they’re getting paid.  Furlough math is having to decide whether or not to fill the gas tank or pay for a child’s school lunch.  Furlough math is holding off on medication because it’s weighing what’s more important- preventative treatment and paying bills.  Furlough math is reducing a child’s shower time to “one Drake song,” McClelland said, adding humor, but honestly shedding light on the sacrifices her family has had to make during the partial shutdown.

Fighting through tears, many people shared their personal struggles during the shutdown.

“I don’t know when I’m going to be able to feed my family.  I have rent.  I have utilities.  I have a car note.  I have daycare,” said one woman and mother of a two-month-old and eight-year-old, who asked to be anonymous.  “I have to send her to daycare to hold her spot, so that’s $250 a week that I don’t have to provide for my kids. I feel like a pawn,” the woman said crying as she held her infant.

Many people noted they were embarrassed to speak up, yet from the anonymous mother sharing her story, Community of Hope’s Pastor, the Rev. Tony Lee, gave her $200 in gift cards and the Rev. William Campbell, pastor at Union Bethel AME offered to pay her childcare.

Further, considering the financial burden, the furlough has contributed to mental health issues.

Jocelyn Route a social worker and community advocate in Bladensburg, Md., who’s running to represent her ward, pointed out the mental trauma associated with the shutdown.

“Depression is real,” Route said, pointing out that one her neighbors has not left the house in 30 days due to the shutdown.  Route told the AFRO she came out to listen to the community and be able to bring back resources to her neighborhood and the people she knows are hurting from the shutdown.

“So today I learned about food resources through Prince George’s Department of Social Services.  They have a fresh produce food bank.  I also learned that there are banks that are giving out low interest or no interest loans, and that if you join their bank and you make direct deposits, you don’t have to worry about paying any fees,” Route explained to the AFRO.  “In addition, I learned that WSSC, the people who provide our water service, they are stopping all cut-off notices at this time and their working with people on very liberal payment plans, so at least we’ll have water.  You need water to be able to live.”

Several politicians were present for the town hall to listen to their constituents’ concerns, including, Maryland State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, Prince George’s School Board members Paul Monteiro and Edward Burroughs and Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD 4th District).  The politicians were not shy in sharing their personal feelings regarding the shutdown and President Trump.

“My mom’s furloughed and what can I say?  It just sucks that Donald Trump is president,” Burroughs said.

“The president’s got an issue.  And we have our interest, and we have to come up with a negotiated solution,” Brown said.  “He’s not looking for a fix for America, he’s looking for a fix for himself.  So let’s look at how we can give him that fix without doing harm to America.  But we got to get this government open,” the Maryland congressman added.

While the conversation was filled with a lot of tears, many speakers tried to remain positive.

Never missing a moment to remind the audience that the church’s doors are always open, Pastor Lee prayed for the end of the shutdown.  “We believe that you can shutdown this shutdown,” he said.

“What I experienced here is we can laugh through this,” Eric Bunn, national president for District 14 of the American Federation of Government Employees said.

“I think from what we’ve heard from so many, is that if we work together, we can work our way through this,” Rep. Brown said.

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor