News

NASA employees brace for prolonged shutdown

Debts pile up as furloughed workers face first payday without a check

For the 1,200 federal employees at NASA Ames, the full brunt of the federal shutdown is hitting home this week.

Friday is payday -- or more precisely, it would be payday if not for the mandatory furloughs for its non-essential federal workers. For the first time since the partial government shut down last month, the civil servants at Ames are missing out on their usual paycheck, and that spells bad news for NASA's talent pool.

Plenty of workers must now pay their mortgages, student loans or routine bills without their usual income streams. And those debts will quickly start compounding, said Janette Rocha, a NASA accountant who also serves as chief steward for the Ames Federal Employee Union.

Describing her own situation, Rocha said she is the main provider for her family, which includes two grandchildren with special-needs, and her husband, who can't work due to a pulmonary disease. But financially, she counts herself as fortunate when compared to the hardships faced by her colleagues.

"We have workers who can't feed their kids, and it could be a month or two months before we get paid," Rocha said. "We're being held hostage for a border wall that won't work."

The federal shutdown began on Dec. 21 due to a political impasse over a spending bill to fund most government operations. President Donald Trump has refused to sign the bill because he insists it must include $5.7 billion for a wall on the Mexico border.

On Thursday, Jan. 10, the Ames union set up a temporary relief station out of a hotel room near Moffett Field. Through the day, furloughed workers streamed in to pick up $100 checks to help pay for groceries, gas or other expenses. Essentially, the union was giving back the employees some of their dues. It wasn't much, but every little bit helped, Rocha said.

For members who need extra help, the union had also organized a no-interest loan program through the Menlo Survey Credit Union. Other organizations, including the Community Services Agency, are urging federal employees who are struggling to sign up for social services, including free groceries or rental assistance.

Regardless of the aid, a prolonged shutdown causes a huge hit to morale, potentially pushing some Ames workers to seek new employment. In past furloughs, NASA Ames reportedly lost some of its researchers and engineers after they were poached by local tech companies.

Rocha recalled the 16-day government shutdown in 2013. During that pay lapse, she remembers losing a highly talented cybersecurity expert who worked in NASA's supercomputer division. He opted to join Google, which offered him nearly double the salary. It was just one example of the "brain drain" that can result at NASA from the shutdown, she said.

Among the employees seeking aid on Thursday was Brenden Sanborn, who said missing a paycheck will make it hard for him to support his wife and two daughters.

"I have a lot of colleagues, including myself, who, if this goes on for even another week or two, we're going to have to find another career outside the government," Sanborn said.

Joel Lachter, a computer scientist in NASA's human systems integration division. As a Mountain View homeowner, he said was relatively secure, and he was using the furlough time to learn the ukelele and piano. But it still represented a huge setback for his various work projects, he said.

"I'm most worried about the contractors who aren't going to get back pay, or the younger employees who don't have savings," he said. "For me, it's just annoying. You're a professional, and all your work and everything just has to stop."

Ames union members joined other federal workers on Thursday for a protest rally at the EPA headquarters in San Francisco.

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Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Mark Noack writes for the Mountain View Voice, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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Comments

9 people like this
Posted by Jane Gill
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 11, 2019 at 10:58 am


The NASA workers mentioned above, Lachter and Rocca, as well as others, should contact our congresswoman Anna Eshoo and tell her they back the President’s plans for increased border security. Perhaps Ms. Eshoo can talk some sense into Speaker Pelosi and end this humanitarian nightmare.

As the astute political commentator Cher put it to Pelosi this week: “This isn’t the hill you want to die on.”


31 people like this
Posted by Build it, Mexico PAYS
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jan 11, 2019 at 11:09 am

Let me fix that for you:

"...should contact our congresswoman Anna Eshoo and tell her they back the President’s plans for having Mexico pay for the wall, as Trump PROMISED."

Yes, let Mexico pay for even the useless parts of the wall, in empty spaces that CBP don't want a wall, just the hi-tech means to cover open space as voted on by the Democratic congress. It can be done in 20-30 years, after all the eminent domain cases with Texas ranchers are settled.

Open the government. Ignore Trump's temper tantrum.

He had TWO YEARS OF REPUBLICAN CONTROL and did NOTHING. TWO YEARS! And he throws a temper tantrum now?!?

It's a Trump stunt to distract from the collusion reported upon this week.


10 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jan 11, 2019 at 11:14 am

Deprting illegals and Building the wall can only be good for California. By deporting the illegals we can solve the housing crisis which in return will free up section 8 housing for Homless Americans. It’s to bad the left has gotton so jaded it needs the votes from illegal immigrants to survive.


17 people like this
Posted by sequoiadean
a resident of Los Altos
on Jan 11, 2019 at 11:17 am

sequoiadean is a registered user.

I believe it is President Trump who took credit for shutting down the government, after listening to right wing TV commentators. He owns the shutdown, it is his fault these employees are not getting paid.


2 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2019 at 11:27 am

Common sense, if you're not getting paid don't go to work!


19 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 11, 2019 at 11:41 am

If Mexico promised to pay for the wall, then hold them to it. If Trump lied to the American people, then he needs to be held responsible.


38 people like this
Posted by Build it, Mexico PAYS
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jan 11, 2019 at 11:43 am

>> Building the wall can only be good for California

@hutch: most of the California border already has barrier. And your deportation plan doesn't work - ask Romney version 2012. Even if it was somehow feasible, the GOP had 2 years of COMPLETE control and didn't bother.

And you're lying about undocumented immigrants voting - that's just another Trump lie. If you think it's true, offer evidence.

We'll wait. Like we are waiting on Mexico to pay as Trump promised.


33 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 11, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Lyon Donald’s current plan is to hurt even more Americans. He’s proposing to“build the barrier by declaring a national emergency, siphoning money intended for relief efforts in wildfire-ravaged California and hurricane-damaged Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. “

He doesn’t care about the people he hurts. He is a dispicabke human being.

And to echo the posters above, if this wall was so important, why didn’t he do this over the past two years when the Republicans controlled everything ?


2 people like this
Posted by Sound Fiscal Management
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2019 at 1:05 pm

He also promised his business experience would be good for our nation and running government. Any CEO who pulled a stunt like this would be removed by the board. Since he has so much experience driving companies into bankruptcy, what are the plans for dealing with the equivalent to our nation?

I think democrats are losing the opportunity to overtly claim the ground of fiscal responsibility, since republicans gave that up long ago.

Democrats are making *arguments* about fiscal responsibility while doing nothing to finally claim the high ground on the issue, because frankly democrats nationally and even in the state have been much more fiscally responsible than republicans ever since reagan made republicans eschew sound/pragmatic fiscal management and the benefits of the marketplace of ideas in democracy in favor of permanent low top tax rates over anything else/opportunity, creating a political cult using lies for a guaranteed base (no matter how badly they fail on principle, such as co-opting Christians no matter how harmful/antithetical their actions are to the tenets and witness of Christianity) and attacking our democracy (permanent republican majority) no matter the conditions.

Of course, that could backfire as the new governor of California is looking to be the worst caricature of a spendthrift politician who makes false arguments to serve rich interests at the expense of the public (such as to push overdevelopment and overbuilding on California using false and simplistic arguments about increasing density and building, while ignoring how it only actually makes things more expensive, invites more overbuilding, creates significant civic negatives cities are already struggling unsuccessfully with, creates disaster hazards including fire (hard not to notice how recent large wildfires have burned so far into regular city areas), ignores the limits of infrastructure, environment, and water, ignores the very real harm to health, quality of life, and displacement of ordinary residents, etc).

Newsome has an opportunity to show that Democrats can be sound fiscal managers including investment in our society and people, but it's looking more likely he will overreach, be a shill for rich interests on that side of the aisle, and make everyone think that the Democratic supermajority that led to so much success and sound fiscal management in this state was actually only because of a person, Jerry Brown. He is showing disturbing mirror tendencies to trump (holding spending hostage to get an end in one of these areas that is really rich interests giving us the opposite result, such as with overdevelopment or healthcare, using false arguments to get leverage for actions that really benefit rich interests such as around housing, etc.)

Democrats have an opportunity to claim the high ground on fiscal responsibility, but there is tragically no intelligent, sound fiscal responsible watchdogs on the other side of the aisle anymore, and the new governnor and lieutenant governor seem poised to destroy any opportunity to make that case in this state.


9 people like this
Posted by Jane Gill
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 11, 2019 at 2:03 pm

What’s especially disheartening here is the lack of willingness by Pelosi and Schumer to use this stalemate as an opportunity to negotiate for things that real Democrats seek, for example:

— a path to US citizenship for “Dreamers”
— a path to US citizenship for H-1b visa holders (thus allowing the US to attract and keep knowledgeable workers)


2 people like this
Posted by A Win-Win For Everyone
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 11, 2019 at 2:21 pm

If the US paid Mexican workers (from Mexico) to build the wall, it could probably save money by paying them slightly lower than union wages + when the wall is finally built, people from Honduras could not come into the USA.

It's a win-win for the US and skilled Mexican workers....not so much for the Hondurans.


34 people like this
Posted by Build it, Mexico PAYS
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Jan 11, 2019 at 2:31 pm

"— a path to US citizenship for “Dreamers” "

Trump was offered $25 billion for border security (it would have paid for about half the $50 B that the wall will cost) and DACA in the Cheeseburger Summit with Schumer a year ago.

Mr. Art of the Deal was too impudent to take yes for an answer.

Ms. Gill: you are confusing Trump for a capable person who cares. He had complete control of congress for TWO YEARS and did nothing but tweet lies to gullible suckers.



"[All Trump] had to do was accept a 10- to 14-year path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States at a young age.

That deal has been on the table for more than a month now: Trump gives Democrats a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers; Democrats give Trump his full $25 billion wall funding request. […]

It is confounding that Trump didn’t just take the deal."


20 people like this
Posted by Our President Is A Criminal
a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2019 at 4:46 pm

Mitch McConnell and the Republican junta is the problem here ... he will not allow a vote that makes Trump's veto moot.


2 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jan 11, 2019 at 8:16 pm

@ Jane Gill

Democrats do not care about Illegals, Dreamers, or what is good for America. All they care about is votes and pandering to il s can guarantee them (13 million and counting) to further their agenda. Of total control of the country and living rich while they raise taxes and kill the middle class. Just look around California is the perfect example of this.

California DMV has already “accidentally” registered to vote felons and illegals through the motor voter system. And the state allows Ballot Harvesting which is illegal in 49 states.


26 people like this
Posted by @Portola Valley
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 11, 2019 at 9:42 pm

How nice of you to repeat everything that's been put out by Breitbart, InfoWars, and Russian troll factories.

Too bad all of it is garbage.

But I guess that's all you can get from the -45 cult these days.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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