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Smithsonian employees out of work, unpaid as museums close down on 12th day of shutdown

Smithsonian museums close down on 12th day of partial government shutdown. (ABC7)

On the 12th day of the partial government shutdown, the federal stalemate reached one of Washington DC’s most popular attractions – the Smithsonian.

On Wednesday, tourists were met with closed signs and locked doors. Museum employees and contractors packed up their bags, created out-of-office email replies and left. No one knows when they can return to work or get their next paycheck.

There were nearly 30 million visits to the museums and National Zoo in 2017. The world’s largest museum, education and research complex uses federal funds to help operate and pay its employees. For the 2018 fiscal year, the Smithsonian received a little more than one billion government dollars, which is around two-thirds of its budget.

Until the government reopens, it’s out of cash.

A few Smithsonian doors were open for four hours Wednesday, not to let visitors in but to let workers out.

“To not have a working government, it’s nuts. And Americans, no matter what your political position, need to just say, ‘Nuh-uh. No. No, no, no. You can’t do that,’” said Tex Andrews as he left the Hirshhorn Museum.

Employees and contractors like Andrews left work indefinitely.

“You’ve got to budget for things. I’ll be living on credit cards until this is over,” he said.

“It’s is disappointing that the government who’s supposed to be in charge of taking care of things, taking care of us as a people just can’t seem to function,” said Cleve Lawrence, a National Air and Space Museum contractor.

Lawrence headed home after closing the simulators at the museum. He said he can make due financially for a week but that some of the employees he manages will have a harder time.

“It’s real disappointing and it just hurts everyone financially. You just don’t know how long it’s going to be and it’s the uncertainly that really kills everybody,” he said.

Betsy Johnson is a full-time federal employee as a curator at the Hirshhorn Museum. She got to work at 9:30 a.m. and left a little before noon. Instead of leaving for lunch, she left for good.

“It just means we’re in limbo for a while. It just means you have to find some other financial means to pay your rent and keep going and you don’t know if you’re going to get back-pay,” she said.

She reached out to family to help her get by until she gets back to work.

“Without that, I’d be in a bad situation,” she said.


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