Politics & Government

Here’s how Mississippi Coast workers are feeling the effects of government shutdown

Mississippi undoubtedly will be one of the hardest hit states as the government shutdown continues, with the state ranking high among states dependent on federal money, jobs and services.

Mississippi ranks eighth among the most-affected states, a survey by the Wallethub personal finance website shows.

Mississippi has the second-highest percentage of families receiving help from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and is 20th among states with the highest number of federal jobs, the survey shows.

Matt Issman of Long Beach is familiar with the government shutdown routine. As a former federal law enforcement agent for 24 years, he has weathered several government shutdowns.

“It wasn’t traumatic per se, because in past shutdowns we were all made whole and it never lasted beyond one pay period,” Issman said. “But with the current White House administration, there’s no guarantee how long it will last.”

Issman is now a contract worker for the U.S. Marshals Service, and he’s looking at no paycheck for any days he’s called in to work.

“It’s the nature of the beast,” Issman said.

But he admits it’s harder for federal workers who haven’t retired yet.

That’s the situation for at least one Mississippi Coast couple. The husband and wife are both federal workers and must work without pay. They have to pay for gas, lunches and childcare, and are looking for part-time jobs that will take up what used to be family time.

“We are uncertain how long the shutdown will last, and that uncertainty grows every day with each failed meeting between the president and congressional leaders,” said the husband, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he’s a supervisor.

The shutdown hasn’t yet affected Mississippians who receive SNAP, but it’s already having a negative impact in other areas.

Taryn Flynt, a Biloxi resident and realtor, said she’s got a home sale that’s being held up.

“I have a house that can’t close because we need a USDA loan guarantee number and because they can’t check Social Security numbers,” Flynt said.

It’s unclear how many federal workers on the Mississippi Coast are working without pay or staying home, and to what extent their agencies’ work will be affected.

Several federal agencies have a presence on the Coast. The FBI has offices in Gulfport and Pascagoula. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has an office in Gulfport.

Several federal offices are located at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, such as the Naval Oceanographic Office.

Federal workers are employed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and at the Seabee base in Gulfport.

The Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport has an unspecified number of transportation security agents who won’t be paid until the shutdown ends.

“Every day I’m getting calls from my members about their extreme financial hardships and need for a paycheck,” TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas said on the American Federation of Government Employees website.

“Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown,” Hydrick said.

Keesler Federal Credit Union, and other financial institutions, are offering to help federal workers with services such as direct deposit for replacement pay until the shutdown is over.

Food banks are collecting to help a projected increase of needy families.

Loaves and Fishes, a soup kitchen in Biloxi, has made its free meals available to federal workers and their families. Those it serves are often homeless or people whose paychecks don’t stretch far enough.

The nonprofit group posted an invitation to federal workers to come get a free meal and received 5,000 shares overnight.

“For a small organization like ours, if we want 5,000 hits, we have to pay for a boost,” Bob Learned said.

After seeing the response, Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen on Water Street decided to set a special day to invite federal workers aside from the soup kitchen’s normal days. Federal workers and families can eat in or take-out at Loaves and Fishes on Monday from noon to 3 p.m.

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Robin Fitzgerald covers real-time news, such as crime, public safety and trending stories. In nearly 40 years as a journalist, her highest honors include investigative awards for covering the aftermath of the fatal beating of a Harrison County jail inmate in 2006 and related civil rights violations. She is a Troy University graduate.