WASHINGTON – It was still a workday Tuesday for many staffers in Arizona’s congressional offices, even as other parts of the government were shut down by a budget impasse – and even though there’s no guarantee they will get paid for this time.
Those deemed “essential” employees – a designation left up to each member of Congress – could be called in to work during the shutdown. For some, that meant saying everyone was essential and calling them in to help deal with an expected influx of calls from constituents worried about the shutdown and concerned about the Affordable Care Act, which Tuesday began enrolling people in state exchanges Tuesday.
“We made a commitment to help and we’re not going to break that commitment,” said a statement from the office of Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, who not only deemed everyone essential but expanded her office hours during the government shutdown.
Other members of the state’s delegation sent some workers home, but had enough staffers on hand to keep offices running during the shutdown, and some closed district offices and kept only a bare-bones staff.
Members of Congress will still receive their salaries, which are not contingent on an annual budget. But staffers will not be paid now for any time they work and can only hope to be paid retroactively once government is up and running again.
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, was keeping her full staff on board, said spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson, but also published a page on her office website with information on how the shutdown would affect constituents.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said some of his staffers were furloughed but that the remaining employees are still taking calls.
“We’re hearing a lot from our constituents and we still have to respond to them,” McCain said.
Maura Cordova, spokeswoman for Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, said his office also anticipated an influx of calls about the health care law, often called “Obamacare.” The office is fully staffed for now, Cordova said, but it is a day-to-day issue and more employees might be furloughed if the shutdown lasts for a long time.
As of Tuesday, things were going normally and most callers just wanted to see if Pastor’s office was open, Cordova said.
Other members are keeping just enough people in the office to keep things running. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, had four people working in his Washington, D.C., office and one person in his San Tan Valley office, said spokeswoman Apryl Marie Fogel. Gosar’s offices in Kingman and Prescott were closed Tuesday, Fogel said.
Although Gosar’s office is going to be lightly staffed, it should be able to respond to questions and concerns from constituents, Fogel said.
“Our intern in D.C. is coming in and is checking our voicemail every hour, so that’s covered,” she said.
Rep. David Schweikert, R-Fountain Hills, furloughed all but five people at his Washington office, said an office spokesman.
Although congressional interns are typically unpaid, those with fellowships from outside organizations are now the only staffers who will receive paychecks during the shutdown, said Adam Sarvana, spokesman for Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson.
Grijalva deemed his entire Washington staff essential employees, Sarvana said.
“We’re all getting paid on IOUs,” Sarvana said.
– Cronkite News Service reporters Nela Lichtscheidl and Pei Li contributed to this report.