This Is How Federal Workers Are Coping With The Government Shutdown
"My son made a comment where he said Santa didn't give us as much as he did last year, and that was heartbreaking," one employee told BuzzFeed News.
If the government shutdown continues into January, Ernest Johnson, a geologist with the Bureau of Land Management, will likely lose his apartment.
It used to be that part of the appeal of a federal job was the stability, but after three government shutdowns in 2018, Johnson is rethinking his options.
"If this is the new norm, then I have to deal with the stress of not knowing if I'm going to be shut down every six to eight weeks," he told BuzzFeed News. "I already talked to the landlord and he's talked about letting me out of the lease if necessary."
As the government shutdown closed on its first week Friday, federal employees are looking at the real possibility of missing their next paycheck and, consequently, the possibility of falling behind on car payments, mortgages, credit card bills, day care fees, and other significant expenses.
While President Trump tweets about keeping the government shut down in order to secure funding to build a wall on the US–Mexico border, some federal employees told BuzzFeed News they're scrambling to keep themselves financially above water, a difficult task considering there is no guarantee when the government may reopen.
"The stress of having to deal with this every two months, it's something where if this is the new normal, I have no problem finding something in the private industry," Johnson said.
For one employee at the Department of Homeland Security in the DC area, knowing the shutdown loomed over her family meant cutting back on Christmas this year.
"My son made a comment where he said Santa didn't give us as much as he did last year, and that was heartbreaking," she told BuzzFeed News. "We try to not be materialistic with our kids, but it kind of hurt that he noticed."
She asked that her name not be published because she was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Other federal employees also shared their stories about being impacted by the shutdown on Twitter using the hashtag #ShutdownStories, including returning Christmas presents for money, struggling to pay bills, and going to work without pay.
Although federal employees have faced three government shutdowns this year, some of them told BuzzFeed News it's hard to prepare for it. Many of them, they said, do not have salaries large enough for them to build up a savings account big enough to keep them financially afloat for more than a month.
The DHS employee who asked that her name not be used said her husband is also a federal employee and they now have no idea when they will be paid again.
They have been able to push back most of their bills, except for their mortgage payment and day care costs, which they have to maintain or risk losing the spots for their two special-needs kids.
"We have about a month in savings and that's it," she said. "That's a struggle because an appliance can break, a car can need breaks. Just like everyone else, we're one or two paychecks from being in serious trouble."
They've both thought about jumping into the private sector, but that would also force them to move out of the DC area. Moving into the private sector in DC would likely mean becoming a federal government contractor, she said, and that means not only not being paid during the shutdown, but not getting the backpay when the government is restored.
The backpay helps, she said, but that means she and her husband will also face additional fees accrued during the shutdown, such as interest rates or late fees if it goes on for an extended period.
Other federal employees are not having much luck with creditors.
Mary Peterson, a federal employee in Austin, Texas, reached out to her leasing company about the government shutdown, but was told it could not make special accommodations.
If she doesn't pay her rent next week, she said, she could be evicted. If she does, she'll be out of money.
"They have no idea what it's like to go through this," she told BuzzFeed News.
She asked that the agency she works for not be named because she was not allowed to speak to press.
She could fight the eviction, but that would be another hassle and, possibly, another expense with legal costs.
"So if I give [my leasing company] all my money, I don't know when the government opens up again," she said. "So we're stuck in this limbo while the shutdown happens."
She could leave the public sector, but she's five years from retirement. At 60, she worries there may not be many options for her.
"We're being held hostage because Republicans want this, and Democrats want that, and they're holding us hostage," she said. "We're living in limbo."