Here’s What It’s Like To Be A Government Worker Relying On GoFundMe During The Shutdown
“My mom was saying she didn’t want to do it, but she was pretty much out of options.”
The US government shutdown has so far lasted 24 days and left an estimated 800,000 government employees without pay. With no end in sight for the longest US shutdown in history, workers and their families have turned to GoFundMe for support.
Tiffany Cunningham launched one of hundreds of GoFundMe campaigns to support her mother, Karen Allen-Eastman, who has worked for the Internal Revenue Service for 30 years. She and her husband depend on her income to pay their bills and the mortgage on their home in Cincinnati.
After the couple’s furnace blew out in December, they burned through their savings to fix it. Just days later, the government shut down. Cunningham and her family have loaned them money to get through the month, but their personal funds are getting low.
“It was very much a last resort, and my mom was saying she didn’t want to do it. But she was pretty much out of options,” Cunningham told BuzzFeed News.
Over the last few weeks, people have raised more than $300,000 through about 1,500 GoFundMe campaigns to support workers impacted by the government shutdown, the company told BuzzFeed News.
Federal workers who are also military veterans, TSA workers, employees with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and workers with the US National Park Service, among others, have asked for donations on GoFundMe to survive the government shutdown.
“We have never asked for help, because we are responsible with our money,” reads one plea. “But we can only budget when money is coming in, and now we are holding our breath as we watch the politicians in DC use our family, as well as 800,000 others, as pawns. We have no say in this, no choice.”
Another reads that “due to the government shutdown, our family has no money left to survive. ...We need to feed our 2 year-old daughter and provide for her.”
One person, who says they are a veteran and work for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says, “I serve because that’s who I AM. I am asking the country that I served to now help me in my time need.”
The government shutdown began on Dec. 22, prompted by Republicans’ and President Trump’s battle with Democrats to approve legislation that would allocate $5 billion in funding to build a wall along the US–Mexico border.
About half of the 800,000 workers the shutdown affects are furloughed with pay, and the other half are considered essential and are expected to work without pay. Workers missed their first paycheck last week.
The shutdown means that national parks are closed, federal consumer reporting agencies are not accepting complaints, and food is not being inspected at entry points. Other agencies, like the Social Security Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, remain open.
Workers aren’t just relying on GoFundMe to get by during the shutdown: Some are picking up odd jobs, renting space in their homes on Airbnb, or applying for unemployment. Recruiters for gig economy jobs, like driving for Uber and making deliveries for Instacart, are also targeting government employees for side gigs during the shutdown. But these aren’t realistic options for everyone.
One federal worker supports his two granddaughters and daughter on his income. But after three weeks of no work, his daughter put out a call on GoFundMe for help.
His daughter, Katie, told BuzzFeed News that the 67-year-old federal worker can’t retire because his income supports the entire family. He lost his wife, and he started looking after his granddaughters after their mother passed away. Katie helps out as a stay-at-home aunt caring for the girls, one of whom uses a wheelchair.
“I haven’t paid any bills,” Katie told BuzzFeed News. “We’re still living off the paycheck we got on [the] first. I’m behind on the mortgage and we haven’t paid anything else.”
To add salt to the wound, both Katie and her father voted for Trump. But Katie said they’re both disheartened by how Trump is holding federal workers hostage because Democrats haven’t agreed to fund the US–Mexico border wall.
“If he was CEO of the company he would be fired,” she said. “Firing your employees because you’re not getting what you want — it’s basically telling your supporters, ‘It’s ok if you lose your house or job as long as I get what I want.’”
And for Jessica Appel, getting a government job last year was like hitting the lottery. She told BuzzFeed News that she and her boyfriend thought it’d mean more stable income. But the government shutdown has changed that for the young family.
Appel’s boyfriend has picked up extra shifts at local restaurants in Washington, DC. He’s hoping to snag a job in Annapolis, Maryland, close to where the family lives, to bring in extra income while Appel’s job with a federal contractor is on hold.
Her GoFundMe campaign was a spur-of-the-moment decision. But while the financial support and positive messages go far, she remains worried about the future.
“Now I’m struggling with not knowing if my health benefits are going to run out because where is the money coming from to pay for it?” she said. “It’s a little scary.”
President Trump has floated the idea of calling for a national emergency to fund the southern border wall without congressional approval, but he said Friday he is not planning to do it “right now.”
“It’s the easy way out,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cunningham told BuzzFeed News her family hasn’t thought about what they will do if the shutdown continues another month.
“We’re just hoping it’ll be over,” she said. “That’s the only thing we can do. We’re just being faithful that God will provide and it will be over soon.”
This story has been updated to protect the identity of a person involved.