A Department of Transportation worker in Missouri picked up cashier shifts at Barnes & Noble. A paralegal for the Justice Department in Texas stopped using her “gas-guzzling” pickup truck and pulled her motorcycle out of storage. An air traffic controller in California is avoiding any purchases that aren’t vital.
As the government shutdown stretched into its fifth day on Wednesday, federal employees and contract workers across the country described a holiday season marred by increasing financial worries. Some 800,000 federal employees have either been furloughed or will continue to work without pay during the partial shutdown, and it’s unclear how long it will last. Twitter became a platform for them to share growing anxieties and fears, using the hashtag #ShutdownStories.
Many declined to identify themselves publicly, so their stories could not be confirmed. Yet their tales of hardship spread widely. One man said he became homeless; he broke his lease in anticipation of moving to another state to train for a new federal job — and the training was canceled. Another described having to terminate a family member’s caregiver as funds dwindled. Several talked of forgoing or returning Christmas gifts.
Julie Burr, 49, an administrative assistant at the Department of Transportation in Kansas City, Mo., said “panic mode” had set in.
She is a single mother and a contract worker who is not getting paid during the shutdown. Her last paycheck will arrive on Jan. 16, and it will be 24 hours short of its regular amount.
“If this goes on too long, I’m going to have to do something drastic,” she said in an interview.
During the holidays she took a second job as a cashier at Barnes & Noble, and the company let her pick up extra shifts during the shutdown. Even so, the money she is making there adds up to only a fraction of her usual income.
“It’ll put food on the table, but it’s not going to pay the rent,” she said. “I do have some in savings, but it’s not a whole lot, especially after the holidays.”
Misty Carrothers, 47, a paralegal at the Department of Justice in Dallas, is also a contract worker who is not being paid.
Her husband, David, is earning a degree in interior design and works part time. They have been living paycheck to paycheck while he attends school.
Ms. Carrothers is applying for unemployment benefits, which will provide 55 percent of her usual paycheck, but she won’t see that money for weeks.
“I think it will get us through,” she said. “But it’s going to be tight, I’m not going to lie.”
Mr. Carrothers said he wrote about their situation on Twitter because he wanted to dismantle assumptions that the government shutdown is akin to a long vacation.
“I’m not looking for sympathy,” he said. “It’s a very serious situation for us and very concerning.”
Essential federal employees who are being asked to work during the shutdown will eventually get paid. But many families are trying to figure out how to pay their bills in the meantime.
Lisa Gray, 50, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, said in an interview that she and her husband, Thomas, an air traffic controller at Oakland International Airport, curtailed their spending as soon as the shutdown started.
They are fortunate: They have a line of credit, they own their home and they have a savings account.
But the uncertainty weighs on them. “It’s more about the fear,” she said.
Her husband, Thomas, will continue working through the shutdown. His next paycheck, the final one until the shutdown ends, arrives on Jan. 1. If the government has not reopened by mid-January, they plan to dip into their savings to pay the bills.
The couple has been through government shutdowns before.
“Normally, it doesn’t go on very long, because politically it doesn’t look good for Congress or the president,” she said. “The concern this time is we don’t think Trump cares about his political image, so there’s a bit of a worry that it might go on longer than it ever has before.”
The longest shutdown, which lasted 21 days, started in December 1995, as Republicans in Congress and President Bill Clinton could not agree on a long-term budget agreement. About 284,000 federal employees were furloughed and another 475,000 worked without pay, according to the Congressional Research Service.
President Trump said on Friday that he was prepared for a “very long” shutdown.
If it does continue, Mike Blankley said he would try to help those who are not getting paid. Mr. Blankley, 40, lives in Lincoln, Neb., and, like many others, was using #ShutdownStories to try to reach those in need.
Mr. Blankley, an aircraft mechanic in the Air National Guard, said he was furloughed during a shutdown in 2013. Federal agencies furloughed about 850,000 employees when that shutdown began, according to a review by President Barack Obama’s administration.
“We had to talk to our day care and say, ‘We can’t pay you this week,’” Mr. Blankley said. “I know how much it sucks.”
Mr. Blankley said that as of Wednesday, he had not heard from anyone yet.
“If this goes on for a while, I hope I do,” he said.