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Union leader: Shutdown leaves furloughed workers scared, desperate

Volunteer Marilu Basile of Setauket weighs donations for

Volunteer Marilu Basile of Setauket weighs donations for government workers Thursday at Long Island Cares in Huntington Station. Credit: Danielle Silverman

The predicament facing furloughed federal employees — working but not getting paid or trying to knit together a living out of odd jobs — evokes a variety of emotions, from anger and disillusionment to fear and embarrassment, aid workers said Thursday.

"Our members are angry, confused, scared and they are desperate," Timothy McLaughlin, a national representative of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, told reporters at the Huntington Station location of Long Island Cares, a nonprofit food bank.

Thursday was the 34th day of the partial government shutdown, threatening the finances of the more than 16,000 employees — and their families — in the New York area whose departments or agencies remain closed. This also holds true for employees deemed essential who have been working without pay. Other Islanders are stepping up to help the hard-pressed government workers.

On Friday, Island Harvest Food Bank is holding a special food distribution and community resources event for federal workers from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the food bank's Hauppauge Collection and Distribution Center at 40 Marcus Blvd.

Also on Friday, Republican members of the Suffolk County Legislature will deliver lunch to two shifts of Transportation Security Administration workers at MacArthur Airport.

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), Rudolph Sunderman (R-Shirley), Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Steven J. Flotteron (R-Brightwaters) and Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) will take lunch to as many as 90 people who eat from 8 to 9 a.m. or 3 to 4 p.m. 

And on Friday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and her Suffolk counterpart, Steve Bellone, will announce creation of a task force on federal government shutdowns.

Former Rep. Steve Israel, who is now chairman of the Global Institute at Long Island University, was appointed to lead the bicounty working group that will “help coordinate a regional response to recurring federal government shutdowns and their impact on Long Island,” officials said in a news release. 

Curran, Bellone and Israel are scheduled to present the initiative at 11 a.m. at the Theodore Roosevelt Legislative and Executive Building, 1550 Franklin Ave., Mineola.

The outreach adds to a flood of gestures of generosity for cash-strapped federal employees as Washington remains deadlocked on a solution to the shutdown.

"We are in this for the long haul," said Paule Pachter, chief executive of Long Island Cares. The group, which typically provides food to about 1,200 clients per month, now has aided 121 unpaid federal workers, up from 85 last week, he said. About $35,000 in cash and 3,000 pounds of food has been donated, he said.

"This is really hurting our community," said state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport).

He helped deliver food collected by his office and that of Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), and other donors, from the local Stop & Shop to Westbury's Islamic Center of Long Island.

"This is uncharted territory for most of them; we hand them a gift card and they just burst into tears," Robin Amato, spokeswoman of Long Island Cares, said by telephone.

McLaughlin, a Navy veteran and Veterans Affairs worker based in Northport, estimated that 225,000 of the 800,000 federal employees also served in the military. 

Matt Bessel, a union steward, said: "Let's change the laws so if you'rean American, you don't have to work for free."

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