PHILADELPHIA (AP) — As the government’s partial shutdown pushed toward a third week, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are feeling the financial pinch.
They’re calling mortgage companies, hoping for a break, and weighing the risks of letting other bills go unpaid. They’re reheating leftovers and turning down the thermostat to save a few bucks. They’re looking into applying for loans or unemployment insurance.
Their worries go beyond household budgets. Some are stressed about the unfinished work piling up in their absence while President Donald Trump and Congress clash over a plan for reopening the government. For many furloughed federal employees, the worst part is the uncertainty over how long the shutdown will last. A look at some of their worries:
You don’t say? Just like the millions of other struggling Americans the elite class never seems to have any sympathy for.
Cue the violins:
This is Nora Brooks’ favorite time of the year. Not because of the holidays, but because of her job. The 61-year-old Philadelphia native is a customer service representative for the Internal Revenue Service. She loves helping taxpayers navigate the IRS, including getting their refunds.
“I get to be the person that explains to you what you have to do to make it better,” Brooks said.
At 11:30 p.m. Dec. 21, Brooks entered into the system one last concern from a taxpayer whose refund had been held up. “I didn’t want the shutdown to further delay this taxpayer I made a commitment to,” she said.
For the past 13 days, she’s been furloughed, worrying about whether she’ll need to seek a second job. The agency requires pre-approval to avoid conflicts of interest, but there’s no one in the office to sign off.
She stayed up until 3 a.m. Wednesday figuring out which bills needed to be paid and which could wait. The agency gave employees a letter explaining the furlough to creditors, but “it means absolutely nothing to them,” she said.
So Brooks’ recent purchases sit in bags, receipts on top, in case she needs money for the electric bill. The thermostat is turned down; she dons a hoodie inside. She spent her health savings account instead of letting it carry over because the reimbursement could pay bills.
“You try not to freak out, but I don’t have any control over what’s going to happen next month. I’m second guessing. Should I have had a whole nest egg? Well, no, my pay doesn’t allow for that,” she said.
If you’re trying to garner sympathy for a group of people, for the love of God why begin with someone from the IRS. And yes, you should have had a nest egg. Saving 1 percent per month–hell, saving 10 percent per month–is eminently doable if you cut a little discretionary spending.
That aside, I’m not entirely unsympathetic, but why do federal employees get the hagiography that most of the private sector struggling don’t?
I don’t enjoy seeing my fellow Americans in pain. I do despise the mouthpieces of the state trying to gin up special, heightened sympathy for government workers.
We haven’t even gotten to the best parts here:
RAIDING THE FREEZER
Rebecca Maclean, a housing program specialist for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Pittsburgh, received her last pre-shutdown paycheck over the weekend. She and her husband used it to make their monthly mortgage payment and cover some Christmas expenses for their three children.
Maclean, 41, said her family is trying to cut back on expenses. They stayed home for a movie night instead of going to a theater. Instead of takeout dinners, they eat leftovers and call it the “Freezer Baking Challenge.”
The family’s financial outlook isn’t dire yet — her husband, Dan Thompson, owns a knife-making business and works as an elected constable. But they recently sat down to prioritize which bills must be paid and which can be late without dinging their credit.
“We’re fine for now,” she said. “Missing two paychecks in January might be a little hairy.”
Maclean, a local shop steward for the American Federation of Government Employees union, said she’s frustrated that federal employees are being used “as a bargaining chip.”
“I don’t know why they want to use 800,000 government employees to make a point,” she said.
Again, boo-freaking-hoo. But here we also see the absurd argument that the federal workforce–which is not really 800,000, since over half of affected workers are contractors–are being used as a bargaining chip.
They’re not. Neither party really cares about the workforce. They’re both using them to score points, but the workforce itself is irreverent. Essential workers are forced to work without pay anyway. And they’ll all likely get payed back.
The issue is a vital one: Border security and national sovereignty. The fact that we’ve gotten to this point over such a fundamental function of the state, perhaps the fundamental function, is an indictment on our crappy system and the crappy people who’ve been in charge of it for nearly a century.
FILLING THE DOWNTIME
In a coffee shop offering free drinks to furloughed workers, Amanda Wagner enjoyed a perk of the downtime from the shutdown: She spent a leisurely Thursday morning assembling a digital photo album of her two young children.
Wagner, 37, and 36-year-old husband Nelson are both federal employees. She’s a branch chief for the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington. He works for the Justice Department. Neither will draw a paycheck until the government reopens.
“The uncertainty is scary,” she said.
For now, Wagner isn’t worried about covering their biggest monthly expenses: the mortgage on their Takoma Park, Maryland, home; child care for their two kids; and credit card bills. Her children’s daycare centers are allowing parents to defer payments during the shutdown.
She knows some colleagues face tougher choices, such as whether to borrow money from family.
“Frankly, I think it’s going to affect us if it lasts much longer. Then I think we will have some cash-flow issues,” she said.
A silver lining: The family is catching up on household projects. They built a bed for their daughter, who just grew out of her crib.
At least this woman sounds realistic and not entitled.
LIVING PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK
Single parent Leisyka Parrott, a Bureau of Land Management employee in Arcata, California, waited until the weekend before Christmas to shop for her 13-year-old son. Her furlough had a sobering effect on their holiday celebration.
“I definitely went really light on it this year,” Parrott said. “I explained to my son that our financial future is uncertain.”
Parrott, 47, a union steward for the National Federation of Federal Employees, isn’t taking it for granted that she and other furloughed workers will get back pay, as they did after previous government shutdowns.
“It’s scary,” she said. “I do live paycheck to paycheck.”
Gas isn’t cheap, so Parrott stays home as much as she can. With rent and car payments, she doesn’t have much wiggle room in her family budget.
“I already live pretty frugally,” she said.
She’s reluctant to borrow money from a federal employee credit union but says she might explore that if the shutdown extends into next week.
Again, this woman sounds like she has her head on straight. But I give no extra sympathy for her being a single mother. That ship sailed in the 90s, when single motherhood was seen as the ideal family structure. Now we know it’s one of the drivers destroying American civilization. I’m not saying this to bash the woman in question. I’m saying it to bash our awful, destructive media.
STILL GOING TO WORK
Mike Gayzagian, a Transportation Security Administration officer at Boston’s Logan Airport, got his last pre-shutdown paycheck last week and continues to report to work, as all TSA officers have since the government closed.
The 49-year-old said worrying about finances has made it difficult to concentrate on keeping airports safe.
“It’s a bizarre situation to be in, where you know you have go to work but you’re not getting paid,” said Gayzagian, who has worked for the TSA for more than a decade and recently became acting president of Local 2617 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA workers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
The Watertown, Massachusetts, resident says he and his wife, who works for a bank, have January’s rent covered, but they’ve already started looking to defer other bills on their two-bedroom apartment.
“As a federal employee, we’re not supposed to be political,” Gayzagian said. “This is not our fight, but we’re being used as pawns.”
He’s also concerned about the effect frequent shutdowns could have on government service.
“People can’t work in an industry that’s at risk of shutting down once or twice a year,” he said.
Bizarre? Bizarre? You should have known about this possibility when you took the job, guy! And again, it’s not about YOU. YOU, PERSONALLY, are not being used as a pawn!
But we save the best, and the article’s purpose in shaping opinion, for last:
WORRYING OVER CONTRACTOR PAY
Federal contractor Chris Erickson says he’ll run out of vacation days if the shutdown continues.
The father of three from Salt Lake City will then crack into his savings, and he’ll likely postpone a 14th wedding anniversary trip with his wife to a cabin.
Erickson said he likely won’t get the chance for reimbursement for the lost days because he’s a contractor.
“It feels like contractors are forgotten in the mix,” he said. “Congress issues back pay for the government employees, and long-term contractors are ignored.”
Erickson, 36, could probably find another job, but the software engineer says he believes in the work he does for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: designing software to help governments and private companies work together to better protect endangered species during construction projects.
Erickson blames the shutdown on Trump and his demand for a border wall.
“One can argue over the merits of border security,” he said. “But if you really think about it, walls are pretty ineffective.”
Erickson called Washington’s political divide depressing.
“We’ve moved to the point where we no longer see the person who has a different set of views as different,” he said. “We see them as evil.”
No, you utter moron, walls absolutely work. Ask Israel. Ask China. Ask people who live in houses. God, people are dumb. I know I’m no ultra-high IQ genius, but the way I can tell at least smarter than the average bear is that I don’t believe the absolute bullshit fed to me like “walls are pretty ineffective.”
And blaming Trump and portraying him as deliberately and maliciously shutting down the government because he hates federal workers is the entire point of the article.
Anyway, this guy could get another job by his own admission, but doesn’t want to, likely because his benefits are so, so sweet.
Here’s a macro issue: There are more important things in life than money. There are other considerations like the system you live in and it’s ability to function.
Ours is collapsing under the weight of its inherent contradictions, including the one where our government is the nation’s largest employer. But hey! Taxes, I mean “investment,” shows up in the GDP, and GDP is king, right?
The ever-impressive Tucker Carson puts things nicely in his savage write-up on the recent Trump-Romney flap:
The answer used to be obvious. The overriding goal for America is more prosperity, meaning cheaper consumer goods. But is that still true? Does anyone still believe that cheaper iPhones, or more Amazon deliveries of plastic garbage from China are going to make us happy? They haven’t so far. A lot of Americans are drowning in stuff. And yet drug addiction and suicide are depopulating large parts of the country. Anyone who thinks the health of a nation can be summed up in GDP is an idiot.
American Yellow Vest movement when?