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Things have been tense in my home lately. My husband is especially grouchy. We’ve both been stressed since last Friday — the day he didn’t receive his paycheck due to the partial government shutdown.
My husband is the main breadwinner for our family of five, and without his paycheck, the budget has been tight. Plus, as an essential federal employee, he doesn’t even get the time "off." He still has to go to work, whether he gets paid or not.
Still, compared to many in our situation, we are fortunate. We have savings to get us through for a short period, as well as credit cards. We even have offers of loans from family members, if needed. But even with so much support, the shutdown is stressful, especially since nobody knows how long this will go on.
We’ve opted to delay some routine health checks and are just hoping we don’t face any major emergencies. But, for now, we aren’t in danger of losing our house, and our three children won’t go hungry. This isn’t true for many of the 800,000 federal workers impacted by the current shutdown.
Why we need to get paid
Last year, the Federal Reserve reported that four in 10 Americans wouldn’t be able to come up with $400 if faced with an unexpected expense. The report also found that only about half of Americans would be able to cover three months' worth of expenses if they were to experience a job loss. Another study by CareerBuilder found that 78 percent of U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck. Considering these statistics, is it any surprise federal workers are struggling?
And yet, as I scrolled through a social media page from within my own community, I was astounded at some of the comments about federal workers facing hardship. Replies included: “You should have an emergency fund!” and “You’re going to get back pay later, so what’s the big deal?”
What’s the big deal?! While both essential and furloughed workers are supposed to get back pay whenever the shutdown finally ends, bills are due now. According to Equifax, missing just one mortgage payment can decrease your credit score by 90–100 points, and could remain on your credit report for up to seven years. As for emergency savings, not everyone is in a position to save for emergencies.
How other families are coping
Barett Henderson is married to a member of the Coast Guard and they have three children, ages 7, 2 and 1. One of their kids has special needs and requires therapy.
“It’s not like my husband can just go out and get another job — because he’s in the military,” she explains. “We’ve moved three times in the last three years. That makes it hard to build up savings.”
“I’ve heard of families returning their kids’ Christmas gifts, and one woman I know was considering pawning her wedding ring.”
Though Henderson was able to get some emergency assistance through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), her family doesn’t qualify for food stamps. She’s had to ask family for money to help out with groceries and cancel therapy appointments for their daughter in order to pay for necessities like gas.
“What’s really scary is that we don’t know how long this will go on,” says Henderson.
Despite that, Henderson, like me, considers herself lucky that she has a family to lean on.
“A lot of families might be okay for now, but if we miss another paycheck, they’re going to be in a whole lot of trouble. I’ve heard of families returning their kids’ Christmas gifts, and one woman I know was considering pawning her wedding ring.”
Anita Morris is also married to a Coast Guard member. She says, “I’m seeing a lot of worry and stress over how families are going to manage and how long they will have to manage,” she says. In addition, she says that junior enlisted members, especially those just out of boot camp, earn lower incomes. They haven’t necessarily had the time to build up an emergency fund. “This will hit them the hardest,” she says.
What is being done to help?
It is wonderful to see organizations offering pantry items, restaurant meals and even free lift tickets to Crystal Mountain, but it isn’t enough.
Recipients of SNAP benefits (Supplemental Food and Nutrition Program) have been informed that because of the shutdown, they will be receiving their February benefits on January 20. Early benefits might sound like a good thing, but it’s not. That assistance will have to last until March. For some, depending on what day of the month they get a deposit, this would mean making one month’s allotment last two full months.
According to a DSHS Office of Communications press release, over 900,000 children and adults in Washington state alone get these benefits. In addition, 75 percent of those receiving food benefits don’t receive any other assistance.
Another federal program, which assists low-income, elderly and disabled citizens through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is currently shut down.
According to a press release from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, property owners who have contracts with HUD to operate low-income housing are seeing their contracts expire due to the shutdown. This puts the homes of nearly 70,000 low-income renters at risk of rent increases and even eviction. Property owners simply won’t be able to continue to operate without these federal contracts.
So, what’s the big deal? As politicians continue to debate and the shutdown drags on, the human cost of the political tug of war continues to mount — and it’s real families in our local community and across the nation that are paying the price.
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