Utah is keeping its national parks open during the government shutdown, but hundreds of other federal workers employed in the state are facing a more uncertain future.
Joel Palmer has worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, better known as FEMA, for the last decade.
In November, the 42-year-old Palmer moved from Oakland, Calif. to Salt Lake to take on a new role as FEMA’s team lead in Utah for a new year-old initiative that provides federal resources to the state’s emergency management division.
Fewer than two months into his new job, Palmer now finds himself on hiatus as President Trump spars with Congress over funding of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It was about a month, month-and-half I was there, and I am furloughed,” he said. “I am considered a non-essential employee.”
FEMA is nestled under the Department of Homeland Security, one of nine departments affected by the shutdown.
It’s a fate that Palmer and other federal workers are growing uncomfortably familiar with. During the 2013 government shutdown, Palmer said he was pulled from a disaster site in Colorado where flooding had occurred due to their budget running out.
Palmer said this time around, he’s making contingency plans with his wife, who may look for temp work if the impasse continues. He's one of roughly 400,000 federal employees nationwide furloughed during the shutdown, with another 400,000 working without pay because they are deemed "essential personnel," according to Politico.
“My wife and son and I just moved here, and just found a new place to live, and are going through all of those growing pains, and now we’re into we’re into a vague, ‘How long will the savings hold out?’” he said.
Palmer will eventually lead a four-person team in the state as FEMA increases its coordination in all 50 states for natural disasters including floods and wildfires. But he’ll first have to get back to work to make those hires.
“I am anxious because I genuinely don’t know where it’s going to go,” he said.
Asked about President Trump’s comments that he’d heard from federal workers supporting the shutdown, Palmer said that hasn’t been the sentiment among colleagues he's spoken to.
“Even the folks that I do know who are in favor of increased border security in one way or another, are really not remotely in favor of this means of achieving it,” he said.