Federal Shutdown Fallout: Angry Employees And A Fuzzy Mount St. Helens

Jan 11, 2019
Originally published on January 12, 2019 8:36 am

Monday should be payday for Dennis Lapcewich, an IT specialist with the U.S. Forest Service in Vancouver, Washington, and the man responsible for the Mount St. Helens webcam.

Like roughly 800,000 other federal employees, Lapcewich is furloughed because of the partial government shutdown. Barring a surprise compromise over the weekend, payday means no pay — and that means problems.

“The fact is, I have a job but I can’t go it, and I’m not being paid,” he told OPB’s "All Things Considered." “I’ve got a mortgage, utilities, mouths to feed. It is a big deal.”

Lapcewich is in better shape than some of his colleagues; he decided during the 2013 government shutdown to start putting money aside just in case he ever found himself furloughed again.

The longer the shutdown goes on, though, the closer he gets to financial trouble. He’s been trying to pay off his mortgage quickly, he said, so his monthly payment totals one out of every two paychecks.

He applied for unemployment to help. At first the state employment office denied his claim. He’s since been approved, but the money hasn’t started arriving yet.

“If and when it comes, it’s roughly 30 percent of my normal salary,” he said.

In addition to financial anxiety, Lapcewich is embarrassed at the impact the furlough is having on his work.

One of the web cameras on Mount St. Helens has been offline since mid-December. Another is out of focus after rough weather.

"I can’t get up there, I can’t do anything about it,” he said. “It’s a personal embarrassment to me as well as the Forest Service.”

Lapcewich sounds frustrated, even angry.

“There’s a political game going on on the other side of the country. I believe federal employees are being held hostage,” he said. “I’m good at what I do. I come from a family of public service, I believe very strongly in public service. I believe in the mission of the Forest Service. I have a unique opportunity to take care of America’s natural resources.

“So to be told, ‘You’re not worth anything, we’re not going to pay you, stay home,’ it’s very demoralizing.”

Hear the full conversation with OPB's "All Things Considered" in the audio player above.

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