Atlanta federal workers, businesses remain wary after shutdown deal

Workers and businesses dependent on federal government jobs, paperwork or loans reacted with a mix of relief and trepidation Friday to news of a funding breakthrough.

People are anxious to get back to business, but the five-week shutdown left a backlog of unpaid bills, frozen credit, stymied businesses and idled farmers. And looming three weeks out is the threat of another government shutdown if Congress can’t find a permanent solution as President Donald Trump and Democrats remain at loggerheads.

William Hoogenhout, a furloughed aviation safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration, said he’s “very, very happy” to return to work but also frustrated over struggling to pay bills. “Why are we being used as a political pawn?” complained the Atlanta-area resident.

Georgia is home to about 16,000 federal employees furloughed or working without pay since Dec. 22. That doesn’t include all the businesses dependent on federal government agencies.

Contractor Ya’Ron Brown runs a cafe in one of Atlanta’s IRS buildings and estimates the shutdown cost him at least $35,000. “Once we get back up and rolling, I am going to look at other opportunities outside of a government setting to open up shops,” he said. “I can’t depend on this, and it is unfortunate that working-class people have to pay for ego tripping.”

Doug Hood, a broker of Small Business Administration-backed loans, frantically started filling out forms for clients Friday. Three had applications waiting when the SBA closed. “Hopefully they are near the top of the pile,” he said, adding he was rushing to submit seven or eight more applications. Among Hood’s clients awaiting loans is a convenience store, a boat marina, a juice drink franchise and an assisted living facility.

Thomas Monti and Justin Waller are awaiting federal approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to start brewing beer at Marietta’s Schoolhouse Brewing. Monti said he knows of at least four metro Atlanta brewers in the same bind. After the federal blessing, they need state and local approval, which could easily delay their spring opening.

More than 2,000 federal employees in Georgia applied for unemployment benefits in the two-week period ended Jan. 18. But those required to work without pay didn’t qualify, according to the state.

Oscar Tarrago of Brookhaven said he remains cautious despite Friday’s breakthrough in Washington. “The uncertainty is still there. This is only a temporary measure,” said Tarrago, a furloughed health scientist at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

He believes he was financially better off than lower-paid government workers who struggled during the shutdown. Still, he pulled money from savings set aside for home renovations and cut back on going out.

Mack Calhoun of Lithonia, cheered the temporary reprieve. “This is great news for everyone,” said Calhoun, an employee of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

He and his wife had investments and savings to fall back on so his situation was not as critical as others. Still, he worried about what would happen if the shutdown dragged on, and he remains frustrated.

“You don’t play ping pong with people’s lives,” said Calhoun, who wants legislation passed that would make it harder to shut down the government.

Staff writers Matt Kempner, Kelly Yamanouchi and Shelia Poole contributed to this report