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Federal workers in Tennessee say money is getting tight

January 17, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As the partial government shutdown drags on toward week four, IRS call center worker Vivian Hunt says she can no longer afford in-home health care for her disabled mother.

Hunt trains other workers to answer questions about tax returns at a center in Franklin, Tennessee. She said her husband, who is not a federal worker, is still drawing a paycheck, but moving to a one-income household, even temporarily, is a strain.

Hunt was one of several workers who attended a Thursday luncheon for the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee of the AFL-CIO. They told their stories and asked those listening to call their U.S. senators to demand that government be reopened.

Hunt said the mortgage and her daughter’s university education are concerns, but her bigger worry is her mother who lives in Atlanta, about a four-hour drive from Hunt’s home in Spring Hill.

“She’s paralyzed on her left side,” Hunt said in a Thursday interview. “I’m very worried about her at this point.”

Prentice Doaks is a union representative at the IRS call center. He said employees are being called back to work “because the president said refunds are going to go out.” Some of the workers he represents drive in from as far away as Huntsville, Alabama, and Clarksville, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) and 70 miles (110 kilometers) one way.

With no money coming in for gas, and bills to pay, Doaks said, “It is getting tight.”

He said he has dipped into savings to get by and was planning to call his mortgage company later Thursday to see if he could get a break.

Charlayne Gunter is a revenue agent with the IRS in Tennessee and also a union representative. She said workers who have been called back aren’t eligible for unemployment checks because the rules require anyone collecting unemployment to be available to work. Those who are still furloughed, like she is, are allowed to seek other work, but it can’t involve taxes.

“So we’re prevented from doing the things we know best,” she said.

Heath Harwell, an IRS accountant in Tennessee, said he knows he is better off than some of the lower-paid support staff he works with, but going without a paycheck is still “starting to hurt.”

“People say, ‘You’re going to get paid back.’ But that doesn’t help us today,” he said.

Tennessee has about 25,000 federal civilian employees, excluding postal workers, according to data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management last updated in September 2017.

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