Amidst the longest shutdown in government history — as people point fingers and try to decide who to blame — people in the background are suffering the real-life impact of what it means to report to work daily with no paycheck in sight.
Fearing what speaking out could mean for her future, a News-Item reader went on record on how the shutdown has affected her, but wished to remain anonymous. She will be referred to here simply as “Peggy.”
“I reached out because I wanted to share my opinion and what everyone else is going through, but at the same time, we can be fired for talking about it,” she said.
Peggy’s employed in a branch the government considers an “essential job,” meaning she and her coworkers have no choice but to show up for work. Any employee who doesn’t report to work is automatically considered to be on strike.
Only scheduled leave that was approved before the shutdown is accepted, but those facing an emergency must provide paperwork proving such in order to continue in their jobs.
“You’re at their mercy, and if you don’t show up they consider you a no-show and that you are on strike,” Peggy said.
Every day, Peggy travels two hours to and from work, with the price of gas taking its toll. She’s worked through two previous shutdowns, though, which have taught her to put money aside should she ever face one again.
But, it’s still never enough to cover all of her expenses.
“Everybody thinks these government jobs pay great money, and that’s not true. They think, ‘They can afford to be without work,’” she said. “We live paycheck to paycheck just like everybody else.”
While Peggy’s husband works a non-government job and is receiving a paycheck, it’s still not enough to balance out their bills.
So what options are available for government employees to make required bill payments?
Employees have the opportunity to open government loans with a zero percent interest rate, but many don’t want to go the route of taking out a loan and creating more financial issues.
Some have resorted to using credit cards, which brings even more issues.
“We’re forced to use credit cards because how else are we going to pay for things? And (the government) won’t give anything to help the interest rates charged to you,” Peggy said.
As far as car payments, rents, mortgages and loans, she said government employees were provided a notice about having conversations with banks, landlords, utility companies and whoever else they may owe monthly payments.
It’s not practical, though, she noted, because the companies and individuals require those payments. So far, she’s found that utilities, suppliers and lenders aren’t likely to put the bills on hold.
“I was talking to someone and they live in an apartment. We’re supposed to talk to our landlords, and she’s already spoken to her landlord and the landlord said, ‘No, you pay it on time or you’re going to be evicted.’ It’s terrifying to think about,” Peggy said. “They’re giving us all these suggestions on what to do, but in the long run, how are we supposed to do them? Landlords and stuff like that, they want their money too. Banks and mortgages aren’t going to stop because of a shutdown.”
Government employees received a more recent notice stating if the shutdown continues longer, it’s suggested they sell items from their garage or hold a yard sale.
“They’re giving us suggestions what to do to earn extra money, but if you’re going to work, how are you supposed to do that? I don’t have time to do that extra stuff on the side. I have a 12-hour work day,” Peggy said.
Even picking up side jobs such as babysitting isn’t an immediate solution to earning extra income because as a government employee, any job done outside of the government must be approved as being in line with a person’s government job.
Even more perplexing is Peggy has yet to receive notification as to how she and other workers will be paid back for the time they’ve worked during the shutdown.
“That’s the scariest part,” she said. “If we get it all at one time, of course we’ll get more additional taxes taken out than what we normally do, and not only that, the government will try to save money wherever they can, so we’re getting screwed any way you look at it.”