As Last Paychecks Arrive, Frustration And Fear Sink In
NBCNEWS.COM - It's one thing for the government shutdown to sink your family vacation
to Dry Tortugas National Park. But the budget fight is shifting from
annoyance to hardship as thousands of federal workers get their last
paychecks until — well, nobody knows.
Federal pay cycles are a patchwork calendar. The stargazers at NASA,
at least those deemed nonessential, got their last paychecks on Tuesday.
The bean-counters at Treasury got them Thursday.
But one thing is
clear as an estimated 800,000 furloughed workers warily watch their
checking accounts: The frustration — and fear — are growing every day.
Mark Thompson, 41, works as a civilian employee at Scott Air Force
Base in Illinois, supervising workers in supply chain operations. He
counts himself among the lucky ones — his wife has a good job as a
physical therapist and he has some savings to fall back on.
Still, Thompson said he can't help but worry about what could happen
if the shutdown drags on for months, leaving him without a paycheck for
long enough that he would have trouble paying the mortgage and other
"It could end tomorrow, it could end in November, nobody knows," he
said. "The stress is you don't really know what to do – how to manage."
Thompson was last paid on Sept. 27, and he is hoping he will receive a
partial paycheck next week to cover the time he worked before the
He also has applied for unemployment benefits. In
addition, he's considering looking for another job – but he's worried
that no one will want to hire him knowing he'll have a job to go back to
when the shutdown ends.
"Why would they invest any time or training?" he said. "Gee whiz, I don't think even McDonald's would."
federal employees can apply for unemployment benefits, but it's
complicated: If federal workers are given back pay when the dispute is
resolved -- the House will consider a bill Saturday regarding
retroactive pay -- in most cases federal employees will have to pay back
the unemployment money.
Some of the federal workers are turning to creative solutions
for fast cash. Mekayla Coleman, who works in technology at the
Department of Defense's Defense Acquisition University, turned to
Craigslist in hopes of selling some baby items she no longer needs.
can be negotiable, but please serious offers only, I really need the
money," says the listing, which advertises about $300 worth of items.
is in something of a bind because she recently spent her savings to
get her house ready for sale and hadn't saved up for the shutdown.
"It's not looking good," she said. "My husband works, but I make the most money, so it's going to be tough."
At her home in suburban Washington, Kate Struckmann has been looking
for ways to save here and there. She's planning inexpensive meals — the
PB&J and mac-and-cheese are popular with the kids, 10 and 6 — and
has been careful to use coupons.
Her husband, Kyle, works for the
National Weather Service. As an employee deemed essential, he is still
working, but she said that the family has no idea when his next paycheck
will arrive. He was due to be paid on the 14th.
As for the bills,
some companies have offered temporary discounts and suggested ways to
change service to save money. In the meantime, Struckmann said that she
is trying to keep from dipping into her and her husband's retirement
And the Commerce Department, which runs the weather
service, has offered a letter than the Struckmanns can send to creditors
in hopes of getting a break.
"If that doesn't work, the cell phones are going to go," she said.
"The cable is going to go. Christmas is gonna be light. My daughter's
birthday is coming up — that's going to be light. We make do."
said she mostly blames the Republicans for the shutdown. As she watches
the squabbling in Washington, she said, "Honestly, I think they're
Wednesday, December 4 2013 10:20 AM EST2013-12-04 15:20:11 GMT
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