As we pass the one-month mark of our partial government shutdown — the longest in history — the effects of the shutdown have truly set in for many employees.
We’ve heard stories about how the shutdown is crippling the economy, impacting our airport security, and overwhelming our National Parks. These big, looming stories are indisputably important; however, it’s easy to forget how so many individuals are affected on a personal level by the shutdown.
Four women, whose lives have been disrupted by the government shutdown, were gracious enough to talk to me about their experience. Nearly all of them asked me to refrain from including their last names to protect their ongoing careers. Each one had a different perspective on keeping their lives afloat as the bills continue to steadily rise with no end in sight.
My Family is On the Verge of Becoming Hungry and Homeless
Amanda, a clerk for the IRS, has been furloughed since Dec. 22. She was called back into work this week, but without a paycheck coming in, she can’t afford the 45-minute commute back and forth. Amanda claimed hardship and was placed back on furlough status.
She told me,
“I have food stamps and housing but both of those are ending shortly due to lapse in appropriations so I face no food and being on the street with my three kids.”
Amanda lives in a small town outside of Kansas City. She notes that none of the resources offered to assist the 40,000 federal workers in the Kansas City area are available to the outlying area where she lives. Without additional employment opportunities to pursue in her town, she is not sure where to turn. Even soliciting money is out of the question.
“Because of an ethics clause in our contracts, we are not allowed to solicit or ask for help or to receive money or goods over the amount of $20. Many are risking their jobs, fines, and jail time by setting up GoFundMe pages to help pay their bills.”
Without any financial assistance resources available and with her contract leaving her unable to solicit money, Amanda feels like it’s impossible to make ends meet.
“I think it’s ridiculous that the government’s inability to function as it should leaves us vulnerable.”
I’m Taking Every Possible Babysitting Job Just to Cover My Bills
Claire, a legal assistant for the United States Attorney’s Office, had been in her position for barely over a month before the shutdown began.
Since the shutdown, Claire has spent money only on bills and groceries. She hasn’t been driving much to save on gas money and has taken every babysitting job that has come her way to ease the strain of ongoing expenses.
“I’m trying my hardest to not dip into my savings account. I just finished paying for my graduate degree, but I have rent, bills, a car payment, insurance, and more to cover. I’m lucky that my parents live close to me because they’ve given me leftovers and had me over for dinner a few times this month.”
However, because she’s an excepted employee rather than a furloughed employee, Claire notes that she’s one of the lucky ones who will receive back pay when the shutdown is over.
“There are so many people out there that have it worse than me. I’m thankful that my friends and family have supported me by cooking dinner or shipping dog food to my apartment—that really happened! I have the best friends.”
Claire states, though, that many of her co-workers aren’t as fortunate.
“Important job positions are furloughed. Our only victim services worker is furloughed…they impact more than just a department. They impact people’s lives.”
My Life Has Been Put On Hold Since the Shutdown
Vanessa*, an Operational Support Technician for the FBI, told me,
“I have -$22.25 in my bank account. I’m lucky that I had enough to buy food and essential items. Most of my creditors have waived or deferred payments, and my landlord is understanding, but I was relying on these paychecks to pay for my trip to San Francisco next month.”
Vanessa was traveling to San Francisco from Pennsylvania to be the Maid of Honor in her best friend’s wedding. Now, the shutdown leaves her financial ability to do so in question.
“I was already signed up for Uber but I drive a truck and it’s hit or miss making money. Most of it just goes to gas.”
Even though Vanessa “loves her job and serving the American people,” she’s prepared to leave her position if it comes to that.
“My worst fear is that government shutdowns are the new normal.”
I’m Working Multiple Jobs Just to Make Ends Meet
Allie, an Air Traffic Controller for the Federal Aviation Administration, is currently considered an essential employee, which means she has to keep working (without pay).
“We are responsible for sequencing every single airplane that is in the sky to at least 12 different airports at the same time. Most people do not understand how stressful and how complex working in a terminal environment can be.”
Yet, despite working such a stressful job for at least 40 hours every week, Allie has resorted to applying for part-time jobs around the area.
“The last thing I want right now is a part-time job. But I need to make ends meet.”
Allie has shown up to work every day since Christmas Eve, but her second paycheck in a row was just withheld due to the shutdown. Mounting bills, including a mortgage payment, student loans, and unexpected trips to the vet without money coming in have created “insurmountable stress” for Allie.
“For the first time since college, I had to have my parents take me grocery shopping because I simply can’t afford anything until I get back paid. I just keep taking it one day at a time and hope that this government shutdown ends soon.”
Even without pay, Allie still tries to keep an optimistic outlook about her position.
“We have a job to do. People have destinations to get to safely and it is our job and duty to maintain the safety of the National Airspace System. We have no choice to show up, but we show up with a smile and lots of sarcasm, and we work hard every day.”
*Name has been changed per the interviewee’s request. All photos are stock photos in order to protect the women’s identities.
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Photo: Matthew T Rader
Michelle Vincent is a project manager and freelance writer. She enjoys traveling, is worried she won’t love her future children as much as she loves her dogs, and is actively recruiting podcast recommendations.