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Long Island

For Long Island federal employees, back to work but uncertainty remains

After the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, some workers question why it happened at all amid threats by President Donald Trump to do it again in mid-February.

Kevin Spillane, of Farmingdale, a tax compliance officer

Kevin Spillane, of Farmingdale, a tax compliance officer for the IRS, returns to work in Hauppauge on Monday. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Thousands of federal employees on Long Island returned to piles of unfinished business at work Monday after the 35-day partial shutdown — and the realization they could face another furlough in less than three weeks.

For a succession of government workers at the Hauppauge offices of the Internal Revenue Service, Small Business Administration and the Fire Island National Seashore, Monday meant resuming normal schedules. For federal employees who missed paychecks but were considered too vital to stay home, Monday meant coming back to work knowing they'll get paid again.

And for all of the estimated 15,000 federal employees on Long Island, Monday meant a far-from-typical work day. 

Jordan Klein, a furloughed air traffic control administrator  at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control in Westbury, arrived at his desk Monday to a deluge of unread emails and voicemail messages.

"These things don't stop during the shutdown," said Klein, of Huntington. "Plans and procedures don't stop. It's going to take months to catch up on all the work that wasn't done over the past month."

Alton Taylor, an airways transportation systems specialist at the Westbury TRACON facility operated by the Federal Aviation Administration, worked without pay during the shutdown, the longest in U.S. history. 

"I'm happy it's over but ticked off that we had this whole fight," said Taylor, who lives in Queens and is expecting his first child in May. "This had nothing to do with us. This should not have affected government workers who keep the public safe, housed and fed."

The shutdown forced many workers to miss a pair of paychecks, leaving them struggling to pay their mortgages as well as utility and credit card bills. Hundreds of furloughed federal workers were forced to visit food pantries. Others relied on loans from family members or dug into their personal savings.

“I am glad to be back," said Kevin Spillane of Farmingdale, an IRS auditor at the taxpayer assistance center in Hauppauge, who spent his time at home working on a "honey-do" list, including building a shed and doing yard work. "I enjoy what I do. It has an impact on the country and the economy. . . . It’s nice to spend time with family. But, you know, these were people you see every day; you spend eight hours a day, five days a week. It’s like a second family.” 

Nationwide, most IRS employees were furloughed and forced to stay home.

The reopening of the Hauppauge IRS office Monday was not without its bureaucratic hiccups.

Throughout the morning, taxpayers visiting the mint green IRS center were turned back by a security guard after being told the computers were down.

“The security won’t even let us in there,” said Jalissa DeHoney of Bay Shore, who was looking to obtain a replacement W-2 she had lost from her job as a home-health aide. “I came out here for no reason.”

But while visitors may have left the IRS facility frustrated, inside, employees were grateful for the chance to be working again.

“It is nice to be back," said Jodi Buddenhagen, of Bellport, who works in tax collections. "We . . . never want to be out of work."

Buddenhagen said she bided her furlough by rereading the Bible, starting with the Old Testament.

“That was nice," she said, "trying to keep your serenity while not getting involved in the politics of the shutdown."

President Donald Trump signed a three-week budget deal Friday to end the shutdown, bowing to mounting pressure after air traffic was delayed at some of the nation's busiest airports, including LaGuardia, because of staffing concerns.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday that the 800,000 federal workers nationwide who were affected by the shutdown will receive back pay by the end of the week. But he did not rule out another shutdown if lawmakers fail to negotiate a compromise over Trump's demand that Democrats approve $5.7 billion for a wall along the southern border. 

Taylor said concerns remain that the shutdown, which put a strain on his finances, could occur again if an immigration deal is not reached.

"I've been penny-pinching any way I can," said Taylor, whose father, a radar technician at Kennedy Airport, also went without pay during the shutdown. "It feels like a reprieve. But it can easily happen again."


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