In Floor Speech, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith Shares Stories From Minnesota Air Traffic Controllers Hurt by Government Shutdown
Senator Highlights Toll of Shutdown; Calls For President, Republican Colleagues to Recognize People are Hurting and Reopen Government
WASHINGTON D.C. [01/10/19]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), took to the Senate floor to share letters from Minnesota air traffic controllers hurt by the ongoing government shutdown. Sen. Smith had asked Minnesotans to share stories on how the shutdown has affected them, and received dozens of letters from air traffic controllers not receiving pay.
Among the several letters she read on the Senate floor, Sen. Smith shared a letter from a new father named Joseph from Lakeville, MN. Joseph said that his son Oliver was born on New Year’s Eve and has been in intensive care since, and said that both he and his wife weren’t being paid. He ended his letter with this: “I take solace in what matters most: Oliver is getting a little stronger and a little closer to home every day. Please do what you can to reopen the government and leave us with one less worry”
Sen. Smith began her remarks saying: “I rise today on behalf of Americans—on behalf of the more than 4,790 hardworking federal employees and low-wage contractors going without pay in Minnesota right now. And I rise today on behalf of the taxpayers in our country who just want the government to work for them. Since I became a Senator just a little over a year ago, the government has been closed three times over the President’s obsession with building an expensive, ineffective wall on our southern border.
“I am all for strong border security—but we need to focus on real solutions, not symbols.
“Colleagues, we can do this. We must reopen the government. I know that each of you have thousands of families with stories like these in your states, and I know that you are hearing them. So let’s resolve this and end the shutdown now.
“And to the Minnesotans who are speaking up and sharing your stories—keep it up. You deserve to be heard by our President and you deserve a government that works for you.”
You can download video of Sen. Smith’s speech here and read a copy of her remarks as prepared for delivery below:
Floor Statement on Government Shutdown
Today, and for the last nineteen days, men and women across the country are being hurt by President Trump’s government shutdown.
I rise today on behalf of Americans—on behalf of the more than 4,790 hardworking federal employees and low-wage contractors going without pay in Minnesota right now.
And I rise today on behalf of the taxpayers in our country who just want the government to work for them.
Since I became a Senator just a little over a year ago, the government has been closed three times over the President’s obsession with building an expensive, ineffective wall on our southern border.
I am all for strong border security—but we need to focus on real solutions, not symbols.
Let’s start with the facts: In my home state of Minnesota, the federal government employs 32,000 people as food safety inspectors, prison guards, postal workers, and more. Of this total number, the Center for American Progress estimates that 4,790 people are impacted by the shutdown and are furloughed or working without pay.
Over 750 of these workers have already filed for unemployment benefits, and hundreds more are being forced to make tough decisions about how to cover basic expenses, feed their children, and take care of their families.
A couple of days ago, I asked Minnesotans how they’re being hurt by this shutdown because I want to understand how this is affecting people in their everyday lives.
Just in the last few days, I’ve heard from Minnesota farmers who can’t cash checks because Farm Service Agency offices are shut down, and tribal law enforcement officers who are working without pay.
And I’ve heard from air traffic controllers in Minnesota, who came by my office earlier this week with dozens of handwritten letters full of stories. The letters I’m about to read come from these air traffic controllers, and I really want to thank them for sharing their stories. These are public servants who have dedicated their careers to making our airports safe.
Tomorrow, January 11th, marks the first day when these people—Americans who show up to work each day to protect us—will miss their first paycheck. What’s going to happen to those families? Will they be able to cover credit card statements? Childcare bills? Loan payments? These are the questions going through their minds.
So I wanted to share some of their stories with you today, so that Congress and the President understand the human impact of this wasteful and increasingly harmful shutdown.
The first story comes from Michael in Rochester, Minnesota. Michael writes,
“My wife stays at home to care for our 3 year old daughter. She is also currently obtaining a master’s degree in education so she can be a teacher when our daughter finally goes to school.
I am the sole income in my home. Needless to say, the prospect of not receiving a paycheck in a week has us wondering how we will make mortgage payments, buy food, etc. We are more fortunate than some of my coworkers, however. Many of them are wondering how they will pay for day care while they continue to go to work as unpaid, essential employees.”
Next is Jonathan, from Lino Lakes, Minnesota. He writes,
“For the last two weeks, air traffic controllers have remained on the job, dedicated to the safety of every flight. But we don’t know when we will receive our next paycheck. My wife is due with our fourth child in two weeks and this uncertainty only adds to an already stressful situation.”
Here’s another one. Mike from Minnetonka, Minnesota, described the impact of the shutdown on his family’s future. He writes,
“I am a father to twin four year-old boys (Jax and Finn) and had to close their college fund account in order to pay bills through the end of the month. The shutdown has also prevented me from training and certifying on my last few positions to receive a $5,000 pay raise. These hardships are going to affect my family for years to come. The replenishment of my boys’ college fund alone could take years as a single income family.
This is going to have a lasting negative impact on me and my family. Please help stop the shutdown to lessen the already great impact it has had on me and my family. My kids’ future and our current financial hardship depends on it.“
Next is Christopher, from Dundas, Minnesota. He writes,
“As a cancer survivor, I have a huge stack of medical bills on structured and negotiated payments. My colleagues and I have suffered the sudden loss of our income due to this shut down. It will be very hard to meet all of my financial obligations.”
Finally, I’d like to share a heartbreaking note I received from a brand new father, Joe, from Lakeville, Minnesota. Joe enclosed two photos of his beautiful baby boy, Oliver, and this note:
“This is a picture of my son, Oliver. He was born on New Years Eve, 10 weeks early. The only local hospital to take babies born before 32 weeks is not in network for our insurance. I cannot change our insurance with this qualifying life event because those government services are closed due to the shutdown.
Further, because there is no paid leave during a shutdown, I am spending my days in the NICU on unpaid furlough status. I don’t know when I’ll be able to change my insurance, or when I’ll get paid again. I take solace in what matters most: Oliver is getting a little stronger and a little closer to home every day.
Joe closed by saying,
Please do what you can to reopen the government and leave us with one less worry.”
President Trump and my Republican colleagues. I want you to listen to these stories and think about the consequences of this reckless and increasingly harmful shutdown.
The Senate could put an end to this nonsense right now.
We could take up and pass the bipartisan bills passed by the House–bills that have already passed the Senate—bills that would help baby Oliver, his dad Joe, and the hundreds of thousands of other people around the country who never asked, and don’t deserve, to be pawns in this fight.
Colleagues, we can do this. We must reopen the government. I know that each of you have thousands of families with stories like these in your states, and I know that you are hearing them. So let’s resolve this and end the shutdown now.
And to the Minnesotans who are speaking up and sharing your stories—keep it up. You deserve to be heard by our President and you deserve a government that works for you.
Thank you, I yield the floor.