The day before the government closed in 2013, my boss brought the entire department together for an impromptu meeting. My colleagues and I formed a circle of armed crossbones and frowning as we listened to our director read us the talking points about what we should do if the House of Representatives did not allocate the funds needed for the Fiscal year 2014. circled around the issue, no one knew the answer: Would we be paid if the government closed its doors?
Our director became so repetitive that she looked like a parrot: "I do not know. I know as much as you do. I do not know. I know as much as you do. She sent us information packages to prepare us for the worst: brochures on how to apply for unemployment benefits, how to check operational status, resources for health insurance coverage, a leaflet explaining why the government was closing in the first place. I went home with a pile of paperwork filled with applications and the prospect of a financial disaster for my fragile little family.
I went back to our babysitter and cradled my two young sons as they napped in their Rock 'n Plays. It was only two months since we hired her, and I was about to tell her that her new job might have to end, at least temporarily. Although she was not a government employee, the closure also affected her – if I did not get paid, she would not be paid.
Contrary to misconceptions about us, federal employees do not work well. Many of us are at a salary of homelessness. But the closure of the government does not affect only federal officials like me, my husband and me. This affects thousands of workers who depend on the wages paid to federal employees to support themselves – such as child care workers, taxi drivers and food service workers. At the closing of the government, federal employees are not the only ones to draw the consequences.
When the government closed, we could not pay our nanny
My family was in a precarious situation in October 2013. I had just returned to work full-time after giving birth to very premature twins. My boys came home with expensive medical needs that required the assistance of an insurance and a regular salary.
Because babies born prematurely are more susceptible to life-threatening respiratory diseases, daycare was not an option. We decided to hire a nanny to take care of them in our house. In previous months, we were paying the mortgage on our house and on a vacant condominium building with my husband's salary and the little money I earned by cutting my hours. My husband's salary is lower than mine and we were hardly able to pay our bills when we were on leave.
After the stop, I did not know what to expect. The political climate seemed too unstable for forecasts. Looking at the information, I was just stressing myself – I closed the experts, even refusing to discuss what was going on with my parents and in-laws. My colleagues and I have barely spoken about the reasons for the stay. Instead, we complained of the personal impact, lamenting our feeling of being the children of a divorced marriage, condemned to bear the burden of our parents' mistakes.
On October 1, the government officially shut down. Our last pay check was September 28th and our next expense would be October 12th. We did not know how long we would be without money. When the last day of the Congress passed without the appropriation bill being passed, my husband and I had to make difficult decisions.
Not knowing how long we would be broke, we decided not to pay the mortgage on the investment condo. Although two pre-mothers need medical care, we did not subscribe to Cobra Insurance, a temporary medical insurance option if our federal policy expired during the closing due to a lack of payment. We simply could not afford the premium. Instead, we were hoping for short leave and no medical emergency. There was no backup plan.
We could not afford to pay the nanny either. She was 23 years old and lived in an apartment complex in the street of our house. She was working for us full time, coming from a similar concert near her hometown in rural Maryland. It took us a month to find her after questioning at least six or seven candidates who, for one reason or another, did not feel confident, leaving our newborns with or asking for more money to the time we could afford. We looked at the daycare located on the first floor of my office building before the boys were born and we quickly dismissed it because of $ 3,000 in tuition per month, which is more than our child support payments. mortgage and car combined.
Before the break, it never occurred to me to think of what would happen to her if we could not pay her. When she was told, she seemed disappointed. But I was so absorbed in my own problems that I did not think about asking her what she would do for money. I promised her that she would be paid as soon as we would have been and I sent her home for forced and unwanted holidays.
When federal employees are not paid, it also affects the non-government workforce
When the federal government closes, the federal government is not alone in being directly affected by stay and bipartite disputes. It's our families, our communities and those who rely on our wages to survive.
Living in the Washington DC area, where the local industry is the federal government, I see the impact of closure everywhere. The decrease in traffic is pleasant, but the deserted highways also reflect the number of people forced to stay at home. Friends working in busy restaurants do not get the shifts or tips they would normally earn from workers who stop for lunch or happy hour. Taxi drivers also lose customers. Although business is slow throughout the region, many stores come together and offer free meals or discounts to federal employees.
The closure ended on October 17, 2013, after a total of 16 days of work. I was lucky; I received the salary back. Many janitors, cafeteria staff and others may not have received a salary return – more specifically, persons employed through companies whose contracts with the government are not considered essential for federal operations or whose salaries are not included in the appropriations bill.
Nevertheless, we had financial difficulties due to the fact that we had not received a salary for nearly 30 days, which we struggled to repair months later. To avoid foreclosure on the condo, we had to pay several mortgage payments on the unit at the same time in addition to cover the mortgage on our house. There were medical bills from the NICU stay of our children who had not been touched. But more importantly, we needed our baby sitter.
On the morning of my return to work, I called to ask him to come back. She said yes, then told me that she was also unable to make her rent last month. She had to borrow money from her parents to make ends meet.
I thought how close my family was to financial disaster, how long it would take us to finally get out of the hole. The effect of this lost money has been passed on to our nanny and then to her parents, all of us burdened by our government's inability to compromise.
Preparing for the worst as a government employee
Although I am not involved in the reason for the closure of the government, I nevertheless said that all this could have been avoided and that my complicity in a financial chain reaction. Maybe if we had saved more money before the boys were born, built a better cushion for ourselves, withdrawn funds from our retirement plan, our babysitter could have made a rent.
Maybe my husband or I should have quit and stayed home with the kids. Maybe if we lived in a cheaper part of the country, if I had decided to seek a job in the private sector, or if I had lost an unpaid leave in those weeks before returning at work. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
However, I realized that all these personal reasons meant nothing to our nanny, to his parents, to the people to whom we owed money. When the government closes, all Americans are affected, whether they work directly for the federal government or not.
This time we are in a better position. Our boys are in kindergarten and no longer need daycare. However, their follow-up program proposed to defer payment to parents who are federal government employees. We sold our house last year and we have fortunately enough savings to cover several missed paychecks.
This current stop has entered its third week without end in immediate sight. I am privileged in many ways that other government employees are not because of what we have gained by selling our house. If we had not had the foresight to sell our house at that time, then who knows what would be our situation today? I'm trying to learn from my mistakes. I hope that our elected officials will do the same.
TL Coleman is a writer, a wife, a mother, a lawyer and an instructor who writes freelance at the closing of the government. She lives in the metropolitan area of DC.