While US President Donald Trump cheerfully served up burgers at the White House, federal employees who earn as little as $A50,000 a year were visiting food banks as their bank accounts ran dry.
The record-breaking government shutdown is in its fourth week and the poorest Americans are being hit hardest as wages stop and services grind to a halt.
Many of the 800,000 low-paid workers who missed their first pay cheque of 2019 last Friday have been forced to turn to charity to help their families survive.
But Mr Trump has refused to budge on his demand for $US5.7 billion ($A8 billion) for a border wall, and Democrats will not increase their offer of $US1.3 billion ($A1.8 billion) for security.
On Tuesday local time, the White House invited rank-and-file Democrats from the House of Representatives to lunch with the President, bypassing party leaders in an effort to gain support for his wall on the US-Mexico border. They refused to attend.
Meanwhile, organisations in cities including New York, Tampa and Chicago extended their hours to hand out items including groceries, nappies and pet food to federal workers. Capital Area Food Bank in Washington DC said 2200 federal employees had visited its pop-up locations.
A church in Dallas, Texas was handing out gift cards to workers on leave without pay or working without pay. Hunger Free America launched a hotline and website to help unpaid federal workers apply for benefits and locate food pantries.
Thousands have applied for unemployment benefits and are using their savings to get by. Others told news.com.au they were only spending money on essentials while they looked for new jobs.
Growing numbers of staff were calling in sick, including parents who cannot risk paying for childcare without knowing when they will next receive any money. Many are concerned they will miss their next pay cheque on January 25, with no sign Mr Trump or the Democrats are prepared to compromise in the border wall funding stand-off.
While those working will receive back pay, the shutdown will still have lasting negative effects.
David Van Slyke, dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, warned in The Hill of a future “brain drain” as people are put off government jobs — plus a hike in prices by contractors who are currently filling gaps and agreeing to be paid later.
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Farmers are not receiving subsidies, manufacturers do not know how much materials will cost and food and drug safety inspections have stopped.
Air travel has been hit particularly hard, with the Transport Security Administration Union saying some staff had quit.
“TSA agents in the New York area … they make an average salary of $35,000 ($A50,000) a year,” Gabriel Pedreira, legislative and political organiser for American Federation of Government Employees, told Metro US. “That’s not a lot of money. When you’re only making $35,000 a year in the New York area and you miss a pay cheque, that hurts.”
Miami Airport closed a terminal and security queues at Atlanta airport, the busiest in the US, stretched for more than an hour with six lanes closed. Many passengers missed flights.
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said on Tuesday the shutdown would cost the company about $US25 million in revenue this month as fewer government contractors and employees are travelling — costs likely to be passed on to passengers.
“We had federal employees who were literally taking Christmas presents that were wrapped and ready to give, and taking them back to the store,” said Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. “They were hunkering down for lean times,.”
Federal prisons, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development are all operating with a skeleton staff.
National parks are closed as toilets overflow and litter piles up, popular tourist sites including the Smithsonian, National Portrait Gallery and American History Museum are shut and the Coast Guard has suspended boating safety checks and ship maintenance.
The FBI has petitioned the US Government to reopen and allow it to get on with protecting the safety of Americans.
During protests in Washington last week, workers held up signs that read, “My landlord is calling and I must pay.”
Some workers have sued the government through the American Federation of Government Employees.
“Our members put their lives on the line to keep our country safe,” AFGE President J David Cox Sr said in December. “Requiring them to work without pay is nothing short of inhumane.”
Julie Burr, a transport department administrative assistant, told news.com.au she had taken on extra shifts at a second job at a bookstore. The 49-year-old single mother from Missouri also set up a GoFundMe and was considering selling her possessions to help pay the bills.
Families already on food stamps have been warned these are only funded to the end of February.
Problems at the US-Mexico border are only growing worse with immigration courts closed and unable to process cases.
Most Americans do not support the idea of a border wall, with 59 per cent saying it was not necessary to protect the border, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.
However, support for the wall is growing among Republican voters, despite many of them living in areas with the highest numbers of federal workers.
“I am concerned for my people,” said Gregory Blaney, an aerospace engineer working without pay running a NASA facility in Fairmont, West Virginia. But he told The New York Times: “I’m willing to endure some impact if it means border security.”
“We need the wall,” Jessica Lemasters, an accountant on unpaid leave (furlough) from the Treasury Department, told the newspaper. “I don’t like being furloughed, but it happens.”
Mr Trump has repeatedly rejected suggestions to reopen the government while negotiations continue, from Democrats and even his ally Senator Lindsey Graham on Monday.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to debate bills to this effect passed by the House of Representatives — and supported by several Republicans — without Mr Trump’s support.
The President has said he will not declare a national emergency to get the wall built using defence department funds, but appears in no hurry to find a solution to the impasse.
He has said he can “relate” to government workers, but believes he has their support.
On Tuesday morning local time, he retweeted a Daily Caller article by an anonymous senior Trump official that expressed a wish the shutdown would last “a very long time” and called it “an opportunity to strip wasteful government agencies for good”.
The staff working for those agencies, and nine of 15 shuttered departments, may not feel quite the same.