'I’m Struggling Through Every Day': Here Are Some of Your Government Shutdown Stories

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Last week, we asked readers to send us their accounts of how they’re dealing with the partial federal government shutdown—whether as employees of the federal government, a contractor, beneficiaries of government services, or otherwise.

Workers have already lost thousands of dollars due to the shutdown. Some will get that money back when—or, at this point, if—the government reopens, but others—like contractors—won’t. One out of every 10 TSA employees is calling out sick. Things are bad enough that two anonymous government employees wrote for us this weekend that it’s “time for federal workers to organize and strike the government.”

In response to our request, you sent us dozens of emails, some of which we’re still mining through. Some took a political stance, blaming either President Donald Trump or congressional Democrats for the shutdown grinding the federal government to a halt. But nearly all had the same underlying message: the shutdown has thrown a wrench into things for a lot of people, and it’d be nice if it ended sooner rather than later.


Here are some of the emails we received. Anonymity was granted; we edited only for length and clarity. 

I follow the advice and play by the rules, but that buys you almost nothing”

I have been a federal employee for 11 years. Unlike most of my fellows, I did have a little bit of a financial cushion set aside for emergencies - but then my emergency happened last month. My garage lost a good quarter of its roofing, and I had to pay to get it fixed immediately, or let winter rain and snow threaten the whole structure. This wiped out my emergency fund.

I’m still doing okay compared to many: I belong to a federal credit union and I secured a no-interest loan for 60 days. With care, it will last the whole 60 days. I have very little debt: just my mortgage, student loans, and credit cards I (usually) pay off every month. I’m single. I know there are dual career people out there with kids that are much worse off than I, but every day the shutdown continues I edge closer to financial disaster as well. I follow the advice and play by the rules, but that buys you almost nothing.

I work for a national forest, and every day we spend shut down is a day we’re not moving forward. It’s gone on long enough we’re in danger of not meeting our targets (timber volume sold and fuels acres treated) for the fiscal year. Another month, and we’ll blow them completely. It’s already difficult to get enough done on the ground to limit the risk of wildfires. Years of Republican controlled Congress have reduced our agency budget so that there is already way more work than there are people to do it. That’s just on my forest, but it applies to almost every one of the 154 National Forests across the United States. Trees don’t stop growing when the government is shut down. It’s not as attention grabbing as piles of trash in National Parks, but the cumulative addition to fire risk is something we can ill afford. More smoke will go in the air this summer, more people will die and more people will lose their homes because we’re not at work.

If you have a Republican Senator, please call them and tell them to do their job and reopen the government.

“I even had to go get free food yesterday. It was pretty humiliating”

I have been with the federal government for almost 20 years. First in the US Army where I served for several years before sustaining injuries overseas and being medically discharged. I worked for the VA for a few years after while I received my education and got a job with the the federal government, where I have been ever since. I was recently deployed to the California wildfire. I went to make some extra money for a trip my wife and I had planned for our wedding anniversary coming up next week. We planned to recreate the first trip we ever took together as broke kids scrounging up enough to go skiing for a few days a long time ago.

I deployed right after thanksgiving. I worked through Christmas and New Years, a sacrifice we decided to take in order to have a great trip and be comfortable financially to have a lot of fun. We prepaid for our place and ski expenses. Then the government shut down.

Since I was deployed to a disaster response, I was required to stay and work, without pay. At first it did not bother me because I figured it would end quickly. It did not. I spent a long time in California while things slowly began to get tighter and tighter at home. I just got back a couple of days ago. We decided to still go on our anniversary trip, as we would lose a lot of money we prepaid before hand if we do not. Now, we are going broke and will cancel everything we did not already prepay for. When we get back, reality will hit. If the government is not open within a month and I still have no pay, everything is going in storage and we will be going to stay with the in-laws. I no longer trust the stability working for the government always offered. I plan on looking for work in the private sector when I get back. I even had to go get free food yesterday. It was pretty humiliating.

Someone said the 800,000 feds on furlough are on a free vacation. This is not a free vacation I am on. You don’t stay up at night thinking yourself a failure because you are not bringing in any money when you are on vacation. You don’t call your landlord and auto loan company and beg them to not take your home or car when you are on vacation. You don’t worry about where your groceries are going to come from or about applying for unemployment when you are on vacation.

I don’t consider this any one party or persons fault. Both parties deserve equal blame on this one. Someone needs to swallow their pride and put us back to work. I would not mind an apology from both sides as well.


“Every day my husband comes home, more depressed than the day before”

My husband is an Air Traffic Controller. We will be ok for a month or two, but we’ve shifted all our spending to a credit card. Anything liquid we have is reserved for our mortgage and our car payments. Morale is at an all time low. Every day my husband comes home, more depressed than the day before. It’s hard to leave your family and go to work every day for an IOU. He is to the point where it’s impossible to go to work. What’s the point? Why should he go when he’s not getting paid? What’s the incentive there. Two weeks before the shutdown, I found out I was pregnant. We were thrilled, but then the shutdown hit. It’s hard to look at the fun stuff ahead when you are worried about buying an $85 inhaler for your child or a week of groceries for the family. Reading the stories of others makes me realize we aren’t as bad off as some, but the longer this goes, the less support I see from the outside world. People keep saying “oh you will get paid, why are they so worked up?” We are worked up because these workers aren’t getting paid, but still required to report to work, sometimes 6 days a week due to chronic understaffing. I wouldn’t expect the cashier at McDonald’s to work without pay. I wouldn’t expect a surgeon to work without pay. I wouldn’t expect a CEO to work without pay. So why do we think it’s ok that our federal workers are?


“I can’t reach anyone at the State Department to take care of such a trivial matter like my birth certificate copy”

I’m not a government employee, but do have a father who’s sick with an illness that may be terminal. I don’t know yet if it is, but signs are not looking up. I was born on a military base in Japan which means I have to go to the U.S. State Department for a copy of my birth certificate. I need a birth certificate because I need to get a passport. I need a passport because my father wants to make me the executor of his will during a trip to [his native country]. It’s one of the last things he wants to do before he checks out. He would’ve liked to plan it for my upcoming birthday, but due to the gov’t shutdown, I actually can’t reach anyone there at the State Department to take care of such a trivial matter like my birth certificate copy, and beyond that, it’s not exactly safe to be flying with unpaid, disgruntled air traffic controllers guiding our flights. I’m aware enough to know there is no comparison with folks who aren’t being paid for their work and are days away from being homeless, but the pain is still real for me here and now.


“Those at the top are blatantly abusing their power to choke those at the bottom”

My fiancé is a TSA employee. He is still reporting to work, even working overtime, and works elsewhere. The bills are piling up and my one sorry teaching salary is not enough. Over the internet you see people saying save. We used our savings to wedding plan or simply just to pay bills because neither of us is rolling in money. We also have an infant. He’s turning one this month and we can’t afford to do anything. We still have rent, daycare, electric, gas, insurance, water, medical insurance, gas for work, and food to pay for. I’ve written 2 letters to Trump, of course I expect no reply or sympathy. How can he sympathize with the average American when he has never walked a day in our shoes? He’s never had to worry about his living situation or taking care of his family. Trump is subjecting us to the same conditions many of those seeking asylum are looking to run from. The only thing is we have no where to go. Everything gets cut off for us here and then we have no way to get to work or do anything. Our story is, we are forced to starve because our president is throwing a tantrum. He doesn’t understand that this is REAL LIFE for the 800,000 + Americans he is enslaving or putting in debt and their families. Trump mentioned the “good old days” a lot in his speeches. Those who didn’t vote for him knew what he meant. We are living in the days of modern slavery and servitude. Those at the top are blatantly abusing their power to choke those at the bottom.


“This shutdown is beginning to affect more than just federal employees”

Most of the talk I hear is about federal employees... but the shutdown is affecting other individuals as well, who are not federal workers. My boyfriend is a tax attorney and works directly with the IRS. Due to the IRS being closed, the law firm my boyfriend works for is suffering. My boyfriend was informed this week that he will only be working every other week going forward, until the shutdown ends. And since he is not a federal employee, he won’t even receive backpay. His salary is now being cut in HALF and now he has to drop his health insurance (which is a necessity as he was in the ER not too long ago) and I will have to take over our joined bills in order for him not to be negative every month, which then puts more stress and financial strain on me. We are both in debt from student loans and those will once again have to be deferred. This shutdown is beginning to affect more than just federal employees... it’s trickling down and affecting others as well!


“Last week I loved my job but now I’m struggling through every day”

I am not a federal employee, but I work for a federal contractor. As the first rumors of the shutdown hit Washington my bosses told me not to worry because our facility was fully funded and it would never affect us. Now they tell me that the contract runs out at the end of the month and that my coworkers and I will be furloughed if the government is still shut down. I guess we’re lucky that we got an extra month of pay compared to everyone else but it’s hard to feel lucky right now.

We’ve already been told there’s no chance of back pay since we’re contractors. Some of the supervisors have been openly trash talking employees who have been vocal about their unhappiness at the situation. A lot of people are working themselves ragged trying to rack up as much overtime as possible to prepare for being out of work. Tensions are high and morale is lower than I’ve ever seen it.

Last week I loved my job but now I’m struggling through every day. I’m young and have very little in savings. I have no spouse and no family to support me and now I may have no income. It feels like I’ve been betrayed by my employers and my government. I was supposed to be safe from this but now I don’t even know how I’ll survive it.


“I’m truly afraid that I could lose what I’ve worked hard to achieve”

I’m a scientist furloughed from an agency conducting important research. I unexpectedly lost my father a little over a week ago. I’m trying very hard to focus on supporting my family through their grief and managing my own grief, which is difficult because of financial uncertainties due to being furloughed. My family doesn’t deserve this. We should be able to grieve unhindered by a shutdown. I’m truly afraid that I could lose what I’ve worked hard to achieve. I’ve been a single mom for 19 years and am supporting my son through college; saving enough money to get me through a long-term furlough has not been a realistic option for me. I love my job and being a public servant. I’ve worked in public service most of my life, including service in the Navy during the Persian Gulf War. Although I would most likely make more money in the private sector, I prefer civil service and don’t want to leave the job I’ve worked so hard for. I’m not sure how I’ll cope financially or emotionally if I miss one more paycheck.


“I’m not sure we’ll be able to afford basic needs if we miss another paycheck”

I’ve been Active Duty Coast Guard for around a decade. It’s an amazing job thats taken me and my family all around the world. But, today I had to go to a free food drive set up by a local spouses association because I’m not sure we’ll be able to afford basic needs if we miss another paycheck. And our trouble is doubled because my wife is also Active Duty Coast Guard, so we have 0 income. We have been getting bombarded by emails from Nielsen and our Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz advising us to ‘hang in there’ and ‘stay the course’. I’ll be leaving next week for a 3 week counter-narcotics patrol. That’s right! The coast guard is still doing its fucking missions while nobody is getting paid! BUT the most infuriating thing is that we have a good number of Trump supporters at my unit AND THEY ARE DEFENDING HIS BULLSHIT!!! I can’t even...On the plus side, the Coast Guard Memes Facebook page has been spitting straight fire for the last 2 weeks.


“I can’t sit back and watch my dream unravel over a grown man’s tantrum”

Let me start off with the fact that I work full-time and pay my taxes, since that’s always an argument. I have 3 kids. I use food stamps and I also used a section 8 program to buy a home for them! I have had the same job for almost 11 years. I work hard for what I have and now I’m looking into the future scared. The funding runs out in March that helps me pay for my home. I also won’t have food stamps at the same time. I also contacted my local HRDC and as of September there will be no help with daycare anymore. I have no idea how I could work and have no help with daycare! It all goes downhill from there. I always dreamed of having a home because growing up it was apartments or the shelter. I can’t sit back and watch my dream unravel over a grown man’s tantrum! I have called my senators on both parties and I really hope this is resolved soon!


“We all have the same concerns of losing everything that we have worked hard to get”

I am a federal employee with the USDA/FSIS inspection services. I have been employed with the agency for over 15 years and went through government shutdowns before, but I have never been without pay before, since the government has always opened back up before it got to that point. I am speaking in behalf of all my federal friends and co-workers that this indeed is a very stressful time in our lives. We go to work faithfully everyday to complete the agencies’ missions to protect the consumer with or without pay! Now comes the heavy burdens of stress that we share. Wondering how are we going to pay our mortgages, car payments, insurances, gas to put in the car to go to work, and most of all feeding our families. How is this going to affect our credit scores when we are unable to pay bills? I am a single mother of 2 children and I also take care of my elderly father. As my fellow employees and I talk to each other; we all have the same concerns of losing everything that we have worked hard to get. Working pay check to pay check is the issues we all have and as these days turn to weeks we will be suffering!!! We the American people are being punished for being loyal to our country.


“I’d rather go broke than have him get his way”

My husband is a 9 year employee of the IRS, currently furloughed because of Trump’s temper tantrum. The shutdown has forced us to dig into our savings, which is fine, because we know he will get his pay eventually. What is not fine is that 800,000 workers are being used as pawns. It’s fucking stupid! We are fortunate to have enough savings for a few months, but what if this lasts “years,” as the orangutan in chief has spouted? My husband is only able to look for work if approved by his territory manager, who is also not working and furloughed, so it’s a gigantic catch 22. He is just a few months away from 10 years of service, which means he will have his remaining federal loans forgiven (over 100k), so he has a lot of incentive to wait this out. I am not so sure he will have a lot of incentive to do a good job once it’s over, though. He is part of a union, from which we have heard nothing. What a fucking joke. But remember, Trump says the federal employees are on his side. What an idiot. He claims that all our creditors will understand if we just call. Wtf?! They have to make money too! I hope to God this shutdown ends soon, but not with a wall. I’d rather go broke than have him get his way.