The shutdown of the federal government is beginning to take a toll on individuals and businesses in Kern County.
As the disruption entered its fourth week — Friday marked its 21st day, making it the longest stretch of unfunded federal operations in U.S. history — employees who either were forced to work without pay or were furloughed reported sagging morale and mounting financial strains.
Tehachapi resident Ryan Squires is among those who has to work but isn't receiving regular pay. An air traffic controller at Edwards Air Force Base, he expects to receive a paycheck next week for $28.15, far below the usual amount, because of the shutdown.
"The job's already stressful," he said, "but the added stress of not knowing how long I'll be able to pay my mortgage and car ... it's demoralizing." He added he's considering selling his truck "as a first step" to protect his finances, and that he may have to borrow from his retirement savings if the shutdown carries on much longer.
Businesses, too, have felt the pinch as loans that were expected to be funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration have been put on indefinite hold. That could force some business people with major deals pending to consider other options with less favorable terms.
"We have quite a few customers that are kind of in this no-man's land," said A.J. Antongiovanni, president and CEO of Bakersfield-based Mission Bank, which offers two types of SBA loans. He declined to say how many customers' loans are on hold or how much money is at stake.
Nationwide, some 800,000 federal workers missed their first paychecks Friday, and there was little sign of a break in the political impasse that led to the shutdown.
It's difficult to say exactly how many Kern residents are going without pay because of the shutdown, as there is no clearinghouse of federal records showing who is affected and where they live. But The Californian's reporting suggests perhaps 1,000 or more workers in the county are being furloughed or working without pay.
One thing's clear: It could be worse. Federal records show Kern County has nearly 9,000 federal workers, which ranks it the 46th among U.S. metropolitan areas with the largest federal workforces.
Many of those workers, however, continue to be paid because they work for the U.S. Department of Defense at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station or Edwards, both located in eastern Kern County.
“The people at (China Lake) are working like they normally do,” said county Supervisor Mick Gleason, who represents portions of eastern Kern. He said he has heard from no one negatively impacted by the shutdown.
Other federal operations have also continued to run locally, including the Bakersfield Federal Courthouse. But smaller offices — ranger stations, the Goodwin Education Center at Carrizo Plain National Monument — are shuttered.
Squires and his wife, Kate, figure they will miss their planned vacation in Thailand this year because of the financial shortfall the shutdown has created. While he expects to be repaid for the money he was supposed to be paid, she probably won't be because of her status as a contract employee at Edwards' NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center.
Kate Squires, a public affairs specialist, said she hasn't worked since about Christmas. On Friday, she filed for unemployment benefits.
She's not the only one in that situation: Most of the 1,200 people at the NASA Armstrong center are furloughed, she said.
"People are on pins and needles, nervous for what's to come," she said. "Were all just watching the news anxiously and hoping that this ends soon."