clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

There are no “feel-good” government shutdown stories

The government shutdown is causing a lot of people to suffer. There’s nothing good about it.

A sign is displayed on a government building that is closed because of a US government shutdown in Washington, DC, on December 22, 2018.
A sign on a government building closed because of a US government shutdown in Washington, DC, on December 22, 2018.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

It’s supposed to be a feel-good story about the government shutdown. But when you dig into it a little, it showcases just how terrible the whole situation is.

MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle reported a story Thursday of a pawned wedding ring as part of the #GoodNewsRUHLES segment she ends the show with: “Yesterday, my friend and colleague Hans Nichols, he brought us this story of one furloughed worker who was so in need of cash she pawned her wedding ring. But we have an amazing update to share: When that woman’s family learned that she sold her ring, on their own they contacted the pawn shop owner, Angela Huffman, and they bought the ring back for her. That is who we are as a nation.”

When you think about this for more than 10 seconds, though, it’s really hard to see how any of this is good news. A woman was so desperate that she had to sell what is likely one of her most important possessions. Then her family had to buy back the ring, because otherwise it could be gone for good. In effect, the woman had to take a loan or gift from her family — all because she, a federal worker, isn’t getting paid as the government shutdown continues.

It’s obviously tragic for people to have to sell their belongings to meet daily needs for any reason, but this woman has a job that she should be getting paid for. She’s just not getting paid due to political battles over immigration.

As Jessica Goldstein reported for ThinkProgress, this isn’t a one-off case. There have been many similar stories from the shutdown of individuals stepping up to make up for the government’s failure to open.

In another example, chef José Andrés opened a relief kitchen a few blocks from the White House, under the banner of #ChefsForFeds, to give free food to federal employees and their families.

Yes, it’s nice that Andrés is being charitable. But the underlying story is that a bunch of people working for the federal government are struggling so badly that someone had to open a soup kitchen for them.

This is the reality of the shutdown. As President Donald Trump refuses to sign any spending deal that doesn’t include $5 billion for his wall at the US-Mexico border, federal employees around the country are struggling to make ends meet, because the pay they’ve relied on for weeks, months, years, or decades is no longer there.

Some of them are even still forced to work just to keep the government functioning — like the Internal Revenue Service workers who are being called back just so the rest of us can get our tax refunds once tax filing season starts on January 28. Just think about that: These people are currently getting no paychecks of their own, but they’re working hard so we can collect our money on time.

Although they’ll get back pay once the government reopens, they’re not getting paid now even as their day-to-day expenses — for housing, food, day care, and so on — continue coming in.

When Ruhle reported the wedding ring story, she said, “No matter what, there’s always good news somewhere.”

Maybe. But that doesn’t mean there’s good news in every major event. When it comes to the government shutdown, what’s happening to these government employees is awful — and there’s no spinning that away as good news.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.