COLUMBIA — As the partial government shutdown approaches its fourth week, hundreds of federal workers in South Carolina will not receive their scheduled paychecks Friday, leaving many low-income employees uncertain about how they will afford their bills and other necessities.
"This weekend is going to be our first time missing a paycheck, so you're going to have people that are going to have trouble paying their mortgages, people are not going to be able to pay for their childcare," said Stacy Jones, a case manager at a federal prison in Edgefield.
The shutdown, which will tie the country's all-time record of 21 days Friday, has led more people to seek aid from food banks and threatens to curb university research as grant money dries up.
The end to the impasse remains uncertain. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have budged in their debate over whether to grant President Donald Trump's request for $5 billion of border wall funding.
The drawn out shutdown prompted about a dozen protesters, including several federal workers, to hold signs for hours outside U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's Midlands regional office Thursday in Columbia urging Congress to finally pass a funding bill and reopen shuttered agencies.
Jones, 45, said she wanted to come to Graham's office "to let them know that we're not just political parties or about posturing, that we're real people that are being affected by this shutdown."
Some of Jones' coworkers live 90 or more miles away from the prison, she said, and they have to commute each day.
"They're no longer going to be able to afford the gas to get back and forth to work," Jones said.
At some federal agencies, employees have been furloughed, meaning they do not have to come to work until the shutdown is over. For essential jobs like prison officers, many still must work even though they don't know when they will next be paid.
Despite that concern, Jones said she has not considered refusing to show up for work, where she said she feels a duty to protect the public from dangerous criminals and help the inmates become better people.
"When I accepted that position, I took an oath to serve the American people and keep our communities safe," Jones said. "I take my job very seriously, and my heart won't let me just walk away."
The loss of income for federal workers can also create economic issues in their local communities. For example, Jones said she and others no longer buy lunch from nearby restaurants, hampering small businesses in the area.
As government shutdowns have become an increasingly frequent occurrence — this marks the third in just the past year — Tangela Graves, a correctional counselor at the federal prison in Williamsburg, said she felt the issue had become bigger than just a polarizing wall proposal.
"If it wasn't the wall, it would be something else," said Graves, 45. "They should take a long hard look at the things that they put on the table and how they handle it and the way they appropriate these funds. I don't think they're looking at how it's affecting the public away from the whole debate about the wall."
With many federal workers focused on just making ends meet, any additional luxuries have become out of the question.
A diehard Clemson fan, Jones said she was offered free tickets to Monday's national championship football game but had to turn them down because she couldn't afford the flight to California without knowing when her next paycheck would come.
"For the first time ever in my life, I've had my adult son call me to ask if I was OK," Jones said. "He asked, 'Mom, do I need to send you some money?'"
Not all of the drivers passing by the protest were supportive of their message, as some yelled out, "Build the wall." But others took pamphlets and offered words of encouragement.
The group sat down briefly with a field worker in Graham's office to explain their position.
"I would like Sen. Graham or one of his representatives to come out to the federal prisons, to step into our shoes and see what we're going through, and then maybe they can get a better idea," Graves said.
Graham, R-S.C., became a central figure in negotiations this week, proposing ideas like offering Democrats other immigration reforms or pursuing wall funding through the committee process. But after Trump rejected that effort, the deadlock appeared likely to remain for a while.
"I think we're stuck. I just don't see a pathway forward," Graham said, according to Politico. "I have never been more depressed about moving forward than I am right now."
The shutdown has prompted a spike at food banks, including the one on Azalea Drive in North Charleston, where the Lowcountry Food Bank spokeswoman Kathryn Douglas said walk-ins have doubled to up to 20 per day.
The food bank has also received an increase in calls and Facebook messages from families who say they have never before needed help with food. And Douglas said the situation could leave a long-lasting impact.
"This is not going to be a one-month thing or a two-month thing," Douglas said. "Public servants will be living this beyond the end of the shutdown."
The shutdown also could impact other projects in South Carolina, including delays to federal research grant payments and reviews.
Across the state, more than $200 million in grants are ongoing from the National Institutes of Health and the Nation Science Federation alone, said Benjamin Corb, public affairs director for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
The Medical University of South Carolina, which receives more than three of every four of those dollars, is monitoring the situation.
Among other grants, concern is growing for payments from the Office of Justice that fund the National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center, which examines the impact of traumatic events, MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine said.
Payments on that $18 million grant would be suspended as of Jan 18. During previous grant interruptions, the university has stepped in, allowing researchers to borrow from other funds until payments are restored, she said.