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Today is the first day back at work for hundreds of thousands of federal workers across the country. President Trump signed a bill to reopen the government late Friday, bringing an end to the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Now, federal workers are worried. They could be out of work again in a few weeks if the president and Congress can't come up with a deal. NPR's Brakkton Booker reports.
BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Just a few blocks away from the White House, a food bank is set up for furloughed federal employees.
UNIDENTIFIED FOOD BANK WORKER: Hey, how are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FOOD BANK RECIPIENT #1: Good. How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FOOD BANK WORKER: Welcome. Welcome.
BOOKER: All that's required to come in is a federal work badge. Yesterday's offerings included chicken torta and winter vegetable panzanella.
UNIDENTIFIED FOOD BANK WORKER: Check your IDs inside.
UNIDENTIFIED FOOD BANK RECIPIENT #2: That sounds good.
UNIDENTIFIED FOOD BANK WORKER: Enjoy lunch.
UNIDENTIFIED FOOD BANK RECIPIENT #2: Thank you so much for doing this.
UNIDENTIFIED FOOD BANK WORKER: Hello. You check IDs inside.
BOOKER: Here at World Central Kitchen, I meet Terri, a federal worker. She asked that we not use her last name because she's afraid her boss won't be happy with her when she shows back up at work.
Can you tell me what you got in the bag?
TERRI: I've got some fruit and some vegetables, and I've got my lunch (laughter).
BOOKER: Terri works as a janitor at the Smithsonian here in Washington. Like many other federal employees, she's missed two paychecks as a result of the 35-day shutdown. She says two things got her through.
TERRI: For me, it has been prayer and my family. If I had not been able to depend on my family, I probably would not have gotten through the past couple of weeks.
BOOKER: She says the shutdown has been painful. Terri's not sure politicians though have any empathy for her or anyone else in the federal workforce.
TERRI: My thing is I don't - I don't like being used. And that's what we feel like. We're being the ones pulled apart and plucked apart and left out to dry when these people that are making these decisions don't have the financial worries that we have.
BOOKER: Terri wasn't getting paid, but she also didn't have to go into work. Duane Wilson did have to show up. He's a federal police officer at the Department of Homeland Security. He expects back pay soon. And another thing he expects - the government to be shut down again in a few weeks.
DUANE WILSON: I personally feel like we're gonna be there. I think you have to - at this point, you have to assume the worst.
BOOKER: The deal reached by Congress and the White House only keeps the government open for three weeks. It included none of the $5.7 billion for President Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall. And when Trump announced the agreement from the Rose Garden, he showcased his willingness to shutter the government once again.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If we don't get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15 again.
BOOKER: Or, the president says, he will declare a national emergency to get his border wall - a move that will almost certainly be challenged in the courts.
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ERIC INGRAM: Hello.
BOOKER: Hi. It's Brakkton from NPR.
INGRAM: All right, great. I'll send my wife to come let you in real quick.
BOOKER: OK, great.
Eric Ingram and his wife Andrea Jensen live in Alexandria, Va. Both are federal workers. Ingram works for the Federal Aviation Administration and took the shutdown saga in stride.
INGRAM: I guess it's cool to be a part of history. That's nice.
BOOKER: If it sounds like he's laid back, it's because his wife, who works for the Department of Energy, has been on the job and has been getting paid. Jensen says the shutdown made her realize something important. Maybe it's not wise for both of them to work for the federal government.
ANDREA JENSEN: It seems like there's more job security in not working for the same agency or having one person in private industry and one person in the government.
BOOKER: Her husband says that is something he's considering. But today he's heading back to work where he's got a ton of projects to get up and running before the next possible shutdown. Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Washington.
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