Workers miss payday as US shutdown bites

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Media captionJust why has the US government partially shut down?

Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers have missed their first payday of the year as the partial shutdown of the US government bites deeper.

Many workers, such as prison guards and airport staff, have been working without any guarantee of pay since the shutdown began on 22 December.

President Donald Trump is refusing to approve a federal budget unless it includes funding for a border wall.

But Democrats say the $5.7bn (£4.5bn) needed is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

About a quarter of the federal government will go without funding until a budget is agreed, leaving 800,000 employees without pay.

What’s the latest?

On Friday, government workers missed their first payday of this shutdown. Some shared their blank payslips on social media.

Oscar Murillo, an aerospace engineer at Nasa, posted his $0 cheque on Twitter and said he had actually lost money because of mandatory deductions.

Another Twitter user, Cat Heifner, shared what she said was her brother’s payslip which showed that he had been paid one cent for his work as an air traffic controller.

Meanwhile, the classified advertising website Craigslist has been flooded with listings from federal workers trying to sell their possessions.

Items ranging from beds to old toys have been listed as “government shutdown specials”.

“Sells for $93.88 at Walmart. Asking $10,” one advert for a child’s rocking chair reads. “We need money to pay bills.”

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Workers across the country have protested against the record shutdown

A food bank in Washington, DC has also said an influx of federal workers has been coming in.

Radha Muthiah, the CEO of Capital Area Food Bank, said that dozens of volunteers are working to pack bags of food for affected workers.

Of the 800,000 federal employees affected, about 350,000 are furloughed – a kind of temporary lay-off – while the rest are continuing to work.

There are reports that thousands of workers have filed for unemployment amid the financial uncertainty, while others are calling in sick.

One major airport, Miami International, has said it will close an entire terminal this weekend because so many security staff are off sick.

What will happen next?

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Mr Trump visited the US-Mexico border in Mission, Texas, on Thursday

President Trump is threatening to declare a national emergency, which would allow him to bypass Congress and build the wall.

He has the right to undertake a construction project of this scale in times of war and national emergency, usually by allocating funds from the department of defence.

But such a move would be hugely controversial, sparking allegations of the overuse of executive powers and it would almost certainly face huge legal challenges.

“I would actually say I would… because I’m allowed to do it,” he told Fox News on Thursday.

However, on Friday he said he would not declare an emergency for now, preferring Congress to act.

Some US media reports suggest the White House is considering diverting some of the $13.9bn allocated last year by Congress for disaster relief in such areas as Puerto Rico, Texas and California to pay for the wall.

NBC News reported on Thursday that Mr Trump had been briefed on such a plan but the White House denied it.

Analysts say the national emergency move would provide political cover to reopen government while allowing Mr Trump to argue he has done all he can to fulfil his campaign promise.

The BBC’s David Willis in Washington says that, with no further talks with the Democrats planned, this now seems the most likely option for the president.

Has Trump changed his pledge on funding the wall?

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Media captionFive questions about Trump’s border wall

Speaking on a visit to a border patrol station on Thursday, Mr Trump said he never meant that Mexico would make a one-time payment for the wall.

“When I said Mexico would pay for the wall in front of thousands and thousands of people… obviously I never meant Mexico would write a cheque,” he said.

However, this is contradicted by an archived campaign memo from 2016, where Mr Trump outlined how he planned to “compel Mexico to make a one-time payment” of $5-10bn for the wall.

Mr Trump said on Thursday that, instead of a direct payment, Mexico would be “paying for the wall indirectly, many, many times over”, under a new trade deal between the US, Mexico and Canada.

Economists have disputed this and critics say that any savings incurred due to the deal would go directly to private businesses, rather than flow into US Treasury.

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