Schatz highlights struggles of Hilo couple to implore US Senate colleagues to reopen the gov’t

  • Courtesy photo U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz Schatz highlights the story of Hilo residents Scott and Jay Pekalib during a press conference.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, called for an end to the federal government shutdown from the Senate floor Wednesday by sharing the story of a Hilo couple first featured Jan. 13 in the Tribune-Herald.

“I have a simple request for my Republican colleagues, and that is open the government,” he said. “Open the government. There are too many people suffering for too long for this to go on any further. One of those people, his name’s Scott Pekalib. He lives in Hilo, Hawaii, and works for the U.S. Geological Survey. He has had a tough few months.”

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A Pennsylvania native who has lived in Hilo for almost three years, Pekalib is an administrative operations assistant at the USGS, but has been furloughed since Dec. 21 because of the shutdown.

Savings were spent after Pekalib’s husband, Jay Pekalib, had to be hospitalized in October following complications from open-heart surgery.

Jay Pekalib was flown to Honolulu and went into cardiac arrest. He spent several days in an induced coma in the intensive care unit, and has had issues with his kidneys and liver as a result, Scott Pekalib told the Tribune-Herald last week. Jay Pekalib also now has problems with gout.

“Scott and Jay spent all of their savings to get through this ordeal,” Schatz said after detailing Jay’s medical issues. “After paying for medicine, hotels and airfare, they were living paycheck to paycheck. Now, because of the government shutdown, Scott’s paycheck reads zero.”

Schatz asked his Republican colleagues to call for a vote on a measure that would reopen the government.

According to the Associated Press, the House on Wednesday passed a Democratic measure to reopen the government through Feb. 8 and provide $14 billion in emergency spending for recent hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.

The bill was approved 237-187, mostly along party lines, but appears dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate. The White House says President Donald Trump will veto the bill, calling it unacceptable without a broader agreement to address what Trump calls a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border,

“And if the president vetoes the bill, let’s act like a separate co-equal branch of government and override that veto,” Schatz said in his Senate floor remarks. “That’s our prerogative in the United States Senate, that’s our obligation in the United States Senate — to do what’s best for the nation, for the health and safety and economic security of all of our constituents. Let’s reopen the government.”

Now in its fourth week, the shutdown continues as lawmakers and Trump remain at an impasse over Trump’s demands for nearly $6 billion in funding for his long-promised wall along the southern border.

“I’m just proud to have been a part of the effort to make this all end and for us all to get back to work and to do the jobs most of us love very much,” Scott Pekalib said Wednesday about the senator’s remarks.

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The couple launched a GoFundMe campaign to help with their expenses during the shutdown. To donate, visit gofundme.com/6pcxoyg.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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