The current partial government shutdown is set to become the longest in history on Saturday when it reaches 22 days. As the shutdown continues, more than 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or expected to work without pay. As a group, these employees are missing out on approximately $1.4 billion in salary per week. People currently working are likely to be compensated when the shutdown ends, but furloughed workers will probably never have the chance to make up the lost wages.
A bevy of reports have come out over the last three weeks documenting the toll the impasse in Washington has had on government workers’ personal finances and the contingency measures they’ve had to resort to. This week, the Washington Post reported that the Coast Guard Support Program was advising employees in a tip sheet to “consider holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog-walking or serving as a ‘mystery shopper.’ ” The program also suggested that furloughed workers talk to creditors and look into tutoring on the side. The Coast Guard revoked the tip sheet after the Post’s report, commenting that it does not “reflect the Coast Guard’s current efforts to support our workforce during this lapse in appropriations.”
Workers have become increasingly desperate in making ends meet, especially those who are living paycheck to paycheck. The Guardian reports that there are now approximately 1,000 GoFundMe fundraisers to help government employees with basic expenses like rent, food, insurance, and utilities. “Never in a million years would I have ever dreamed that I’d be turning to GoFundMe asking for help, because in all honesty, I’ve always felt there was probably someone else who could use the help more than my family,” one GoFundMe user wrote. “The truth is that even without the presence of a shutdown, my family still struggles, but I’m usually able to make things work out, because that’s what single moms do, we make things work out.” While this particular user has raised more than $5,000, the Guardian reports that the fundraisers have generally managed to raise an average of $100 each, or about $100,000 in total.
Another online resource that furloughed workers have been tapping is Reddit. The subreddit r/personalfinance is now host to a “2018-19 U.S. Federal Government Shutdown Megathread” in order to consolidate the numerous entries on the topic that have been posted in the last three weeks. Users have been advising furloughed employees on how to deal with certain banks, take out loans, find temporary gig economy jobs, and ask for extensions on payments. The forum has been particularly helpful for people who face somewhat unusual conundrums in the face of the shutdown, for which general advice may not be applicable. For example, one government employee posted that the shutdown came right as he was set to make an offer on his first house. Another user said her father is a government employee who lives with her but is unable to pay rent while—but still has to attend to his job. An employee at a mortgage servicer informed Redditors that the company is willing to prolong a loan, but only if a customer asks.
The most upvoted post on the megathread as of Friday afternoon reads, “And if you are dealing with a federal employee (say, a park ranger during your vacation or an IRS phone support person) remember that person might not have seen a paycheck for awhile and has no clue when one will show up. Please be kind.”