Idled work­ers tighten belts and do with­out

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Janna Her­ron USA TO­DAY

Tai­lor Gutierrez, a fur­loughed worker for the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice, no longer buys meat. She eats ra­men, or white rice and gravy in­stead. ❚ “We’re try­ing to find things that are cheap, but fill­ing and sort of healthy,” the 19-year-old says. ❚ Across the coun­try, 800,000 fur­loughed fed­eral em­ploy­ees like Gutierrez and their fam­i­lies are run­ning the num­bers and tight­en­ing their bud­gets, know­ing that most would not get a pay­check Fri­day.

Those pay­checks are on hold for fed­eral work­ers forced on un­paid leave or work­ing with­out pay be­cause of the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down. For most, their last pay­check was Dec. 28. And with two in five Amer­i­cans say­ing they’re un­able to af­ford a $400 emer­gency, that empty pay pe­riod hurts.

Korinne Sharp, a dis­abled vet­eran who is on un­paid leave from Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, is tap­ping the sav­ings she had built up. “Dip­ping into that is re­ally scary,” says the 40-year-old from Eu­less, Texas, who had hoped to use the fi­nan­cial cush­ion in case her chronic back in­jury flared up. “My back could get to the point I can’t work any­more.”

Mak­ing ‘ad­just­ments’

Last week, Pres­i­dent Trump said work­ers hurt by the shut­down will “make ad­just­ments” to deal with the fi­nan­cial strain.

This is what they’re do­ing:

On a Face­book page called “The Of­fi­cial Gov­ern­ment Shut­down Group,” fed­eral work­ers are shar­ing sto­ries of cut­ting cor­ners such as shop­ping at dis­count stores and sell­ing stuff on Face­book Mar­ket­place.

Some post in­struc­tions on how fur­loughed work­ers can get sec­ond jobs, a process made harder by the shut­down.

Oth­ers have turned to on­line fundrais­ing and credit unions for help. GoFundMe has seen more than

1,000 cam­paigns that raised about

$150,000 for those af­fected by the shut­down, a com­pany spokesman says.

About 6,000 of the 100,000 Navy Fed­eral Credit Union mem­bers af­fected by the shut­down have en­rolled in its loan pro­gram for fur­loughed work­ers. And 50 mem­bers of the Mi­ami Fed­eral Credit Union, which serves 3,500 peo­ple, have ap­plied for fur­lough re­lief. That num­ber is ex­pected to rise.

“These are not peo­ple who are rich. Many live pay­check to pay­check,” says Buster Castiglia, the Mi­ami credit union’s pres­i­dent and CEO. “If you miss one, it’s a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion to deal with.”

At North­land Area Fed­eral Credit

“These are not peo­ple who are rich. Many live pay­check to pay­check. If you miss one, it’s a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion to deal with.”

Buster Castiglia, pres­i­dent and CEO, Mi­ami Fed­eral Credit Union

Union head­quar­tered in Os­coda, Michi­gan, one For­est Ser­vice fire­fighter was strug­gling be­fore he got ap­proved for a low-in­ter­est loan for fur­loughed work­ers. “He sent a mes­sage say­ing, ‘We weren’t go­ing to pay our mort­gage pay­ment, so we could feed the kids,’ ” says Matt Duth­ler, credit union spokesman.

De­pend­ing on the farm

In Texas, Sharp feels blessed even though she’s fur­loughed from the CBP. Deemed a nonessen­tial em­ployee, she now spends her days on her small farm, try­ing to turn a profit. She has nearly 18 acres with berry bushes, or­chards, a veg­etable gar­den, rab­bits, chick­ens and guinea fowl.

The farm is help­ing save her money. In­stead of gro­cery shop­ping, Sharp is eat­ing food from her farm. She also makes money giv­ing tours of her prop­erty and sell­ing pro­duce. Be­fore, that money went to pad­ding her sav­ings. Now it’s her only in­come.

“I’ve also been go­ing through my stuff to see what I can sell,” she says. “My fancy shoes, coats from de­signer brands, some farm projects. Maybe my horse trailer. That could be worth a bit.”

She hasn’t ruled out a new job, but it pains her to think that after 17 years of gov­ern­ment ser­vice, first with the Air Force then the Air Force Re­serves and now CBP, the shut­down could force her else­where.

“I never thought of leav­ing the gov­ern­ment. Maybe I can get trans­ferred to an­other depart­ment not un­der fur­lough,” she says. “I’m lucky that I have big enough sav­ings to help me for a lit­tle bit. But I can’t af­ford it if this goes too long.”

Wait­ing it out

At night, Gutierrez, of Og­den, Utah, wakes up after three or four hours of sleep and scrolls through the news on her phone, hop­ing the shut­down has been re­solved.

“I as­sumed it wouldn’t be that long, like last time, so I wasn’t too wor­ried,” she says. “By the sec­ond week, I got a lit­tle wor­ried and now it looks like it’s go­ing to stay.”

She ap­plied for un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, which won’t come through for at least two more weeks. She wants to ap­ply for a tem­po­rary or side job, but she must get pre-ap­proval from the IRS first, which has proved dif­fi­cult to ob­tain.

She can’t turn to her fam­ily for help. Her grand­fa­ther is dis­abled and can’t work, while her grand­mother also is fur­loughed. “I helped her get a job at the IRS,” Gutierrez says. “As soon she got set­tled there, it got shut down.”

With less than $100 in sav­ings, she’s do­ing what she can. No more date nights with her boyfriend, or home­cooked pot roast and corned beef. Her land­lord – also her boyfriend’s grand­mother – waived her por­tion of the rent this month. But she’s not sure what to do when her car in­sur­ance and pay­ment come due at the end of Jan­uary.

“If this goes on for a month, I’ll look into get­ting a new job,” Gutierrez says. “But this is a good job for me. The IRS would help pay for my col­lege. I wanted to try to make it into a ca­reer.”


Union mem­bers and other fed­eral em­ploy­ees rally to call for an end to the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down on Thurs­day at AFL-CIO head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton.

Tai­lor Gutierrez


Korinne Sharp

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