Employees at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site are still anxious, despite being back at work for a week after the shutdown ended.
On Friday, the federal workers told Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis they are on unsteady footing with another shutdown possible later this month.
Vanessa Torres, the site’s deputy chief of interpretation, was one of four employees required to work without pay during the 35-day shutdown.
“The reality struck on Tuesday, when we were supposed to receive pay and you get a zero-dollar pay stub,” Torres said. “We do this work because we love it — we’re passionate about it. We don’t become civil servants for the money.”
Torres, who joined the Lincoln Home staff last October, has worked for the National Park Service for more than 11 years.
While the most recent shutdown was not Torres’ first, she said it was the hardest.
“In past shutdowns, you had this feeling of when it was going to end,” Torres said. “This one was different. You didn’t know what to expect.”
Torres and her husband closed on a house the day before the shutdown started. She said they were fortunate to have a second household income, but not everyone on her staff was as lucky.
“A lot of them are students. They’re already eating top ramen,” Torres said. “What else is left to eat when you get that check cut out?”
Torres said the next 15 days are just as uncertain.
Back pay for the site’s furloughed workers should be caught up in about two weeks, Torres said, but she likely won’t spend that money until budget negotiations are settled.
She said other federal employees will have to use that money to pay back unemployment benefits.
Congressman Davis, a Republican from Taylorville, told the Lincoln Home workers he understood their anxiety — and shares their pessimism about avoiding another shutdown.
He repeatedly said Democrats need to negotiate with the president, but when pressed by reporters, he did eventually concede Trump made one mistake.
“I think the president was wrong to say that he’ll own this shutdown,” Davis sad. “I think the president boxed himself into a corner to where many in the American public believe it was a shutdown that was caused by the Trump administration, and the Trump administration only.”
Davis said he believes the president realized his error and is offering solutions. He said Democratic leaders have yet to do the same.
Regardless of future federal action, December’s shutdown will have lasting effects on the Lincoln Home site.
Superintendent Tim Good said it interfered with hiring seasonal tour and maintenance staff as the site’s busiest time of year approaches. He said about 250,000 people visit the Lincoln Home each year.
“I can’t guarantee what we’re going to be able to accomplish if we can’t get that seasonal workforce in place in time,” Good said. “Lincoln Home’s not unique this way. This impacts national parks throughout the country.”