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Federal workers react to shutdown deal: "It's way past due — but great news"

Voices of the shutdown: What's Next?
Voices of the shutdown: What's Next? 52:09

Washington — Approximately 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or working without pay because of the prolonged partial government shutdown — the longest in U.S. history. 

On Friday, the second missed payday for workers in nine federal departments, President Trump announced he would support a measure to fund the government for three weeks. The measure has already been approved by the House and Senate and was signed by Mr. Trump Friday night, despite that it did not include funding for the border wall. 

Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday that federal employees will "receive their back pay very quickly or as soon as possible." But it is still unclear when the nine federal agencies affected by the shutdown will begin issuing paychecks once the government reopens.

Before and after the president's announcement, federal employees from different agencies and with diverse perspectives explained how the gridlock in Washington has affected their lives and what a deal to reopen the government means for them. Some workers chose not to disclose their surnames or the government agency that employs them.

"It's way past due — but great news"

Sonnia, a furloughed worker who handles procurement for a federal agency, was enjoying a hot meal she received for free from José Andrés' World Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C., when she was informed that the White House and congressional leaders had reached a tentative agreement to reopen the government. 

"Of course this is great news. It's way past due — but great news," she told CBS News, adding that the shutdown resembled a "hostage situation" for federal employees. 

Sonnia, who described herself as a supporter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, praised Democrats for standing their ground and not budging to the president's demand for border wall funding. Still, she said both parties need to work together to pass comprehensive immigration reform that also includes border security. 

"It's important to figure out the best approach to protect the border," she said. "I think there's a lot of ways to that, not just one way. I think we have to have an open mind." 

"It should be longer, not three weeks"

Dianna, a furloughed employee who works in the budget office of a federal department, said she was glad she could potentially be paid soon. But she stressed that her "federal family" needed long-term assurance that they will receive compensation. A three-week agreement, she said, is just a temporary fix that will continue to fuel uncertainty among federal workers. 

"It should be longer, not three weeks," she told CBS News. "We're wasting enough time right now."

Dianna said two missed paychecks have exacerbated financial woes in her household. She said she never wants to go through this experience again. 

If she could meet with congressional leaders and the president, she said there's just one message she'd try to get across to them: "If I don't get paid, you shouldn't get paid."

"We're being used as pawns"

Erika, a furloughed federal worker, said the stalemate in negotiations on Capitol Hill has been fueled by a "power struggle" between the president and lawmakers. "It's unfortunate that we're being used as pawns," she told CBS News, adding later, "How are you holding your civil servants hostage?"

Erika said she and her husband, a fellow federal employee who's working without pay, have been relying on their savings and the "generosity" of financial institutions to make ends meet since the shutdown started. Speaking before Mr. Trump announced a shutdown deal had been reached, she said she didn't know how they would take care of her four children if the shutdown was to drag on.

"We might end up on the street or I have to start pulling money out of my retirement, which is not ideal," she said. "I shouldn't have to pay that penalty for a wall."

"We need to, as a nation, control our borders"

Cleo has been working in the federal government for over 14 years and he's never been furloughed for this long. But even though he's not being paid, he supports the president's rigid stance on securing funding from Congress to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"At some point, you need to take a stand, both nationally and personally," Cleo told CBS News. "And yes, we need to, as a nation, control our borders, control our access to our country."

Cleo mentioned that he's been fortunate to have, unlike many of his fellow federal workers, another source of income through his rental investment work. He recognized the financial and emotional strain that many of his colleagues are enduring, but said the nation desperately needs more security at the southern border. 

"Personally, we need to support that viewpoint," he added. "And sometimes it's worth the sacrifice." 

"I love what I do — and I can't do it. And that is really frustrating"

Sarah Pinter didn't expect to be furloughed from her first "real" job after graduating from college. And because she's a contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency, she will likely not be paid for the days since the government closed — unless lawmakers pass a bill guaranteeing pay for federal contractors. 

"This has been incredibly stressful," she told CBS News. "I've lost two months worth of rent already and every paycheck that I don't get is another month off. I love my job. This is the first job I've had to support myself full-time — and I was really proud of myself for that."

Sarah said the shutdown has been "devastating," not only for her income — which she is supplementing with two part-time jobs — but for her emotional well-being. Because she's worried about paying rent, student loans and other basic necessities, Sarah said the past 35 days have been extremely demoralizing. 

"Being away from the work that I love doing everyday is not only a financial burden to me because I won't ever be paid back for these hours, but I love what I do — and I can't do it. And that is really frustrating," she added. 

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