Living the US government shutdown at home and at work
“People’s bills don’t stop just because the Government is on furlough,” said one federal worker. (Reuters: Joshua Roberts)
My wife is a US government scientist, and is one of the 380,000 workers at home without pay due to the government shutdown.
Another 420,000 workers are still doing their job, but not being paid.
There’s a perception it’s something of a paid holiday, but that’s not been my experience.
Federal workers are banned from speaking to the media about the shutdown. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
The weeks leading up to it were filled with anxious group text chats, as colleagues debated whether it would happen this time.
Four days before Christmas, it did.
Immediately our family income — like hundreds of thousands of others — was temporarily halved.
There’s no guarantee of back-pay.
We’re relatively fine, and don’t have too much to worry about, but it’s an expensive time of year.
Losing one pay cheque means reworking the budget.
A holiday has been cancelled and my wife’s yearly investment in running gear postponed.
It was odd to be given free food by one of our favourite local restaurants, which is supplying complimentary lunches to federal workers and their families.
Very minor things really, but many other workers are in a much worse position.
The bulk of government workers are at the lower end of the pay schedule and some have both partners in the workforce.
The US government shutdown comes at an expensive time of year, with no guarantee of back-pay. (Reuters: Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
As both sides of politics blame each other, and with federal workers banned from speaking to the media, this perspective on the shutdown is often drowned out.
One federal worker did agree to share her experiences with me, as long as she was identified by a different name.
“I think the biggest impact has to do with uncertainty, and just not really knowing what’s going to happen, when things are going to happen,” Valerie said.
“I think everybody’s really worried about when we’re going to get paid, if we’re going to get paid.”
Like so many others, Valerie’s bills are mounting in the Christmas period.
“People’s bills don’t stop just because the Government is on furlough, so I think it’s the uncertainty and the stress financially that’s kind of the biggest impact,” she said.
In the US, where workers rely on their employer for hospital care, there are extra layers to that uncertainty.
“I did want to be able to go in an get my wrist x-rayed, and it just occurred to me before I called my doctor that, ‘Oh lord, am I even going to have health insurance and be able to get this taken care of?’,” Valerie said.
“I was worried about it, because it is something that could easily get worse.”
Luckily, Valerie did have health care and was able to get treatment.
There’s still concern though about the people they serve — the American public — some of whom have lost access to emergency welfare programs.
“Federal workers really care, and they really are working to help people,” Valerie said.
“I hope that people get that, that we want to be at work and we want to be helping people.”
Many of Valerie’s colleagues work in government to make a difference, and have told me similar things.
They’re disappointed important scientific research or other work has been suspended, and they’ll start 2019 trying to make up for lost time.
When they do eventually get back to work, federal workers won’t just have the usual post-holiday blues to contend with.
Shutdowns are rigorously enforced, meaning no-one is allowed to enter the buildings.
Workers expect to return to an office filled with dead plants and last year’s rotting foods.
That’s the inside story of a US government shutdown.