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Local jobs suddenly are put on hold by shutdown

By Anna Isaacs

Publication: The Day

Published October 02. 2013 4:00AM   Updated October 02. 2013 3:50PM

Jason Southard, the director of athletic media relations at the Coast Guard Academy for the past 19 years, is one of hundreds of federal employees in eastern Connecticut sent home by the shutdown.

Though he took his position in the summer of 1995, he said he either doesn't recall the last shutdown or wasn't affected by it.

"There's been talks that it was going to happen in years past, but I don't remember it ever happening," he said.

But Southard does remember being told that his job qualifies as "nonessential" - a label he said doesn't bother him too much. ("Working in athletics - there are way more important things," he said.)

His chief irritation for now was the counterintuitive directive he received while relaxing at home with some breakfast Tuesday morning: He had to come in to work after all, to sign paperwork saying he would not come in to work.

"I'm kind of an easygoing guy," he said. "That's kind of the only thing that annoyed me today."

Southard said he loves his job. And with a big football game looming this Saturday still happening as of Tuesday, he'd be willing to work for free just to make sure things run smoothly from the press box. He was told he can't. He's working now to find someone to step in.

"There are certain things that only I know how to do that nobody else knows how to do," he said.

As far as his paycheck, Southard was optimistic Tuesday, but that could change.

"Being the first day, I'm not overly concerned," he said. "If you were to talk to me in two more weeks, I would be very concerned."

Bob Lancaster, a butcher at the Naval Submarine Base commissary, had just started getting full paychecks after this summer's sequestration, during which he had one unpaid day off a week.

Between military service and various jobs as a civil servant, Lancaster has been working for the federal government for nearly four decades - through pay freezes, overtime cuts, and more than one shutdown.

"Sometimes you get numb to it because you've been through it enough times," he said.

But this came at a particularly inopportune time, he said, having just started normal work hours again and having just completed some major renovations on his home. He said he's lucky that his wife is gainfully employed.

"We're just tired of the up and down and the uncertainty of our careers," he said.

Lancaster said he was told his furlough would not last longer than 30 days, but says he doesn't feel he's been given a clear-cut answer.

His wife, Helen, an executive assistant at American Ambulance, seems to have more political anger about the subject. A registered Democrat who she says she rarely votes along party lines, she said she's seen enough ignorant Facebook posts to prompt some "unfriending."

"(Republicans) keep saying that they're doing it for the American people," she said. "But I'm sitting here today and I'm saying to myself, my husband is furloughed until further notice. We have no idea when he's going to be able to go back to work."

She said her paycheck will cover them for now, but she has concerns for down the road.

"It's going to be an issue if it persists," she said. "We can hang on for a little bit."

- Anna Isaacs

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