Federal workers in Chicago face uncertainty as shutdown continues

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CHICAGO — With no end to the government shutdown in sight after 13 days, the effects of the stalemate between President Trump and Congress are starting to ripple across Chicago and the rest of the country.

Only one of every six Federal employees actually works in Washington, leaving the rest spread across the U.S., including some 29,000 who work in the Chicago region. Among them are about 900 administrators, attorneys, scientists and engineers at the EPA's Chicago regional office.

As the president of the AFGE Local 704 Union, Michael Mikulka says he sees "a lot of anxiety," among his members at the EPA since the shutdown.

“We’re being used as pawns in the game that the president’s playing,” Mikulka said.

There's also the practical impact of the shutdown: so many projects are on hold. EPA workers normally complete environmental cleanup and protection projects, and study pollution health risks like at the USS Lead Superfund Site in East Chicago, Indiana, where high lead levels concerned residents for years.

Permits won’t be issued and public hearings won’t be held during the duration of the shut down, meaning construction and other areas of the economy could start showing effects of the shutdown.

“This is really critical work for the American public, we’re trying to be the ‘cop on the beat’ and protect them against pollution every day," Mikulka said.

Rejecting Democratic proposals for re-opening the government, President Trump says he will not sign any deal unless it includes $5.6 billion to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

“I think the people of the country think I’m right,” President Trump said.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin says blame lies in the Oval Office.

“The President has made the decision that, despite his responsibility to manage and lead this government, he would rather shut it down and hold it hostage for his beloved wall,” Sen. Durbin said.

The longer the shutdown drags on, the more difficult it will be for Mikulka and federal employees in Chicago get by.

“When we get paid next time on January 15, we’ll get half a check," Mikulka said. “And that’s going to put some people in a real bind.”

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