Associated Press / YouTube Federal workers in Kentucky protest shutdown 1548441545.jpg...
Associated Press / YouTube

This would probably be the big shutdown news of the day, if the lack of air traffic controllers wasn’t grounding flights at major airports. Donald Trump ordered tens of thousands of IRS employees back to work—unpaid, of course—to be sure that tax refunds go out on time despite the shutdown. But thousands haven’t shown up, and many workers are simply finding other jobs.

Tax-processing and call centers are massively understaffed, to the tune of about 14,000 out of 26,000 workers called back. Around 5,000 claimed hardship exemptions, for reasons like being unable to afford the gas money needed to get to the office every day to work without pay, while 9,000 couldn’t be reached at all. Many workers aren’t planning to go back to the IRS. The Washington Post reports that “The IRS is also losing 25 IT staffers every week since the shutdown began, with many finding other jobs.”

The government has been shut down for more than a month. Workers have now missed a second paycheck. And the IRS workers that Trump ordered back should not have been asked to be on the job—it was part of one more attempt to keep the public from getting too mad about the shutdown by blunting its effects on people who need government services, at the expense of the people who provide them.

The result of all this, as far as IRS absences are concerned, is that if you try to reach the IRS call center, you have about a one-in-three chance of getting through. And refunds? Expect delays on those. Because it turns out that, no matter what Trump and his flunkies thought, federal workers do a lot for all of us, day in, day out. We notice when they’re gone, and we can’t expect them to just keep showing up without pay.

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