Working without pay

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: how the government shutdown affects government workers.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today marks day 32, and while politicians spar over how to reopen the government, some 800,000 government workers are without a paycheck.

REICHARD: WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg spoke with some who are struggling to get by.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: At a food bank run by Catholic Community Services in Ogden, Utah, Christine Hadfield and her sister are sitting in a large waiting room. They’re waiting for their turn to shop at the food bank.  

WORKER: If you just came, if you’re here for the government shutdown… if you’ll just go to the office first they’ll give you a white slip and then you can come right back here. OK?

Hadfield has worked at the IRS for 25 years. Shutdowns have left her without a paycheck three times. But…

HADFIELD: This is the longest. It’s gotten way too far.

Hadfield says after nearly a month without pay, she’s feeling the financial strain. For the second time in two weeks, she’s back here at the food bank.  

HADFIELD: I mean most people think it’s so we should had put money aside for this, but it’s kinda hard when you work paycheck to paycheck. They need to quit using us as pawns, actually. It’s not a game.

The federal government has furloughed more than 4,000 IRS and U.S. Forest Service workers in Ogden. That’s a lot of people in a city of 87,000.

When it’s Michelle’s Swiger’s turn to shop, she walks through a door and down a hallway. A worker greets her with a cart and some encouragement.

WORKER: So you guys stay positive. Keep on smiling and share those wonderful smiles and personalities you have.

Swiger welcomes the pep-talk.

SWIGER: I’m going stir crazy. My, my routine is off. I find myself going to bed at 5:00 in the morning because I’m stressed, and I can’t sleep. There’s only so much you can do at home. It’s not vacation.

The food bank’s shelves and coolers are set up to resemble a mini grocery store. As she winds her way along the designated path, Swiger places potatoes, apples, spaghetti noodles, and boxes of granola bars in her cart. She’s a single parent.

SWIGER: I have a 16-year-old son at home, so he eats a lot sometimes. We live paycheck to paycheck. I take pride in what I do, and I work to the best of my ability every day. But that doesn’t always translate into more money or the ability to do those extra things.

Maresha Bosgieter is the food bank director. She’s seen a steady increase in traffic since the shutdown began.

BOSGIETER: We have had almost 300 families come through already. It’s adding another 50 percent on top of our regular clients that we’re serving.

In response, local grocery stores have been supplying more food.

Bosgieter also notes the shutdown is also having a ripple effect on businesses and local governments as government workers pinch pennies. In Ogden, sales taxes makes up a third of annual tax revenues.

For some government workers, the eventual back pay may not come in time. Scott Smale and his wife both work at the IRS and they recently made some major investments.

SMALE: We have to figure out how to make the house payment. We just built a new house and bought a new car, and now we don’t have any money so, it’s not very good.

If he misses a payment, his car could get repossessed.

SMALE: Especially with the new car, they won’t help you, because we’ve only made one payment on it so…

Melodie Anchondo left her teaching job to work at the IRS just two weeks before the shutdown began. Then, a week into it, her husband got laid off from his job.

ANCHONDO: Well, I thought I was having a good day until I started talking to you, but um, it’s okay. We are exhausting all of our savings.

She says if the shutdown goes on for much longer, she’ll begin looking for other work.

ANCHONDO: I may contact my old employer just to see if I could do some substitute teaching.

All of the government workers I talked to at the food bank say they want to get back to doing their jobs, and they want politicians to do the same. Here’s Michelle Swiger.

SWIGER: I think we’re expected to do our job ethically and responsibly, and I think they need to do the same. It doesn’t make any sense. We’re expected to do ours. We expect them to do theirs as our leaders, whether we voted for them or not.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Ogden, Utah.

(Brian Albers/KUER) Shoppers including furloughed federal workers visited the Catholic Community Services food bank on Wednesday.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Working without pay

  1. Sharon Wilgenburg says:

    May I respond to this article? As self employed people–farmers–my husband and I have always lived frugally because we never know how the vegetable market will be when our vegetables are ready for sale. We took the Dave Ramsey course years ago and have set aside an emergency account as well as 3-6 months’ of savings.

    While your story was very sympathetic to the plight of those who live “paycheck to paycheck” and thus currently are making ends meet by “shopping” at the food banks or who are worried about losing their new car and new home, I would ask where is their emergency fund? Their savings for a rainy day? Since this is not the first government shutdown, ought they not be prepared, knowing it could happen again, as indeed it has many times over? Why buy a new house you can barely afford and a new car? Dave Ramsey would probably advise them to sell the new car and buy a beater while they save up to purchase a newer one. And he would also probably say to sell the house and move somewhere affordable until they can save up for a downpayment and and emergency fund in case of job loss or future shutdowns.

    I know it sounds harsh to those who are living through this, but we have lived through these situations as farmers, learned, and thrived. Perhaps this is a wake-up call to live more wisely.

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