Transportation Security Administration officer Ellen Jackson is planning to retire in April, but as one of about 800,000 U.S. workers going without pay Friday amid the partial government shutdown, the 59-year-old said she's driving-full time for a ride-share company to get by.
"I don't want to borrow any money," said Jackson, an Air Force veteran who said she makes about $38,000 annually. "I don't want to get into a deeper hole."
Jackson and several dozen other federal workers in Nevada met with the state's Democratic U.S. Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto on Friday to describe how they're struggling to get by.
Both Rosen in Las Vegas and Cortez Masto in Reno called on President Donald Trump to work to re-open the government instead of demanding money for his border wall.
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"You're not being treated with the dignity and the respect that you deserve," Rosen told workers, many of whom got emotional as they told their stories.
"I'm 51-years old and I'm getting food stamps," said Jackson's TSA colleague at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Julia Peters.
Peters, who said she makes $47,000 annually, said she's required to show up as an essential government worker but she's being forced to work without pay. Peters said she put gas in her car but is trying not to drive much and has canceled her DirectTV service.
Peters told the Associated Press later in a text message that she applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, on Thursday and was approved on the spot. She said five of the other eight applicants at the benefits office were also TSA workers.
Julie Balderson with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, which administers SNAP in Nevada, confirmed Friday that multiple federal workers, including TSA agents, applied for and received SNAP benefits in Nevada this week.
Brianna Bedard, the wife of one of about 20 active U.S. Coast Guard members who is working at Lake Tahoe without pay as an essential employee, said in Reno on Friday that her family may have to pull their child out of school and move in with parents if the shutdown continues much longer.
Bedard said Coast Guard families frequently move so many are one-income families like hers. She says the public may not realize that many military families like hers receive federal food assistance and federal childcare subsidies that have been suspended.
"A loss of paycheck for us is often the loss of our only paycheck," she said.
Bedard added that "this is a shameful way to treat the military."
Cortez Masto said federal workers are "being played as pawns and hostages." She also said the Trump administration hasn't spent all the border security money that's already been allocated under past funding bills, which included money for drones and technology more sophisticated than a wall, which she called "medieval technology."
"The bad guys on the other side that are smuggling drugs, that are human trafficking, they are using 21st century technology against us," she said.
Rosen said it would be an over-extension of the president's power to declare a national emergency to fund the wall and "wrong" to divert national disaster funds slated for cleanup from hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Texas and wildfires in the West — two options the Trump administration is weighing.
"He wants to divert all that money to building a wall. That's wrong," Rosen said. "There are people that are suffering that that money's already been allocated to."