In a Shutdown: An Interview With a Furloughed Employee

With TSA (Transportation Security Administration) agents potentially not getting their paychecks today, we’ve seen the start of rallies and protests by Federal employees against the government shutdown; but the politicians in Washington are not willing to budge, or are too willing to block. As the days turn to weeks, this shutdown over funding for Donald Trump’s border wall has citizens who depend on their income from government sources (either employment or assistance) sweating with anxiety and anger.

Just how will those who make this country work – the people on the ground – make the ends meet? Coast Guard officials suggest garage sales for starters. This lack of compassion, a new “let them eat cake,” is as heartbreaking as it is infuriating.

Wanting to get some personal answers, we reached out to a local Louisiana federal worker, whom we’ll call “Michael,” for what exactly happens to those who are furloughed, and what happens to those in need of now-closed services:

Bill Arceneaux: What does it mean to be a federal employee during a government shutdown?

Michael: Being a federal employee during a government shutdown is very frustrating, as you are an unwilling pawn in a political game. It’s very demoralizing for those who have to report to duty (while not getting paid), and for those who are furloughed and not allowed to report to duty. In my opinion, in times of a government shutdown, the entire Legislative and Executive branches should be furloughed as well as it is THEIR failure to do their job that has closed the government.

BA: How has this slow down or complete closing of services and pay hurt you and others in the state of Louisiana?

Michael: This government shut down and loss of pay has hurt many…in particular, single parents. It came at the worst possible time as many single income/single parents, like most parents, cut things pretty tight at Christmas. The ones who had to report to work had to incur childcare expenses from providers who want to be paid weekly and folks had rent/mortgages due. I know of some who are contemplating leaving their position in order to find a job so that they can pay their regular monthly expenses…housing, utilities, food, childcare, etc.

BA: You work in advocacy for people with disabilities. That’s a specific community with specific issues. Should this shutdown go on for any longer (and it just may), how bad or harmful will things get for families and individuals in need of assistance?

Michael: The shutdown is already impacting federal employees with disabilities, including former military veterans with disabilities, as they are not getting paid. For those not employed by the federal government, an extended shutdown could impact WIC and SNAP benefits. In the case of our household, my wife and I are adoptive parents of two children and foster parents to two other children with developmental disabilities and complex medical needs. Two of the children are WIC eligible and require specialized formula which would cost over $1,000 per month if benefits are impacted.

BA: The economy is gonna take a huge hit, both locally and nationally, because of the problems in D.C. Hardly anyone living paycheck to paycheck is prepared for a cut in income. Will people be able to apply for temporary benefits, or will they have to seek help or work from outside sources?   

Michael: Many federal employees impacted by the shutdown have already begun applying for unemployment and SNAP benefits. I expect this will really ramp up as the impact of not receiving a paycheck for the past two weeks will hit home this week. Many are looking for temporary employment or working part-time jobs as able.

BA: How does this alter the confidence in government, and what is being done statewide to help ease the load?

Michael: Federal employees impacted by the shutdown are frustrated. For those of us furloughed without pay, there is no one there doing our jobs, and the work just piles up to be completed when we return to work. For those who are working without pay…well, I don’t believe anyone would like to report to work day after day with no idea of when the next paycheck may come.

BA: What would you suggest people do to get by? What organizations and services are available during a shutdown, and what can citizens do to voice their feelings?

Michael: Folks who are able are contemplating withdrawals from retirement accounts to get by. Some are counting on family, friends, and religious organizations for assistance. I suggest everyone contact their U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators by phone or email to voice their feelings about the government shutdown.

If you are a federal employee or contractor who has been furloughed by the government shutdown, we want to hear from you! Please contact with your story.

Bill Arceneaux is the lead content writer for Big Easy Magazine. In addition to this, he has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. Be sure to check out his film reviews and other articles here.

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