This government shutdown may have lasted just 16 days, but the effects will be felt much longer. Economists estimate the cost of Congress’s gridlock — over funding government obligations as well as basic services — has already run well into the billions. And the prospect of another potential government shutdown lies just 12 weeks away.
For many affected Americans, the fallout isn’t just financial. Brides and grooms who were set to marry at national parks or monuments had to scrap or postpone their plans. The future of some school programs is in question. Cancer patients awaiting acceptance into NIH-funded clinical trials have watched their wait times grow longer. And hundreds of thousands of government workers have more than two weeks of work (and pay) to catch up on.
We spoke with seven women who were affected by the shutdown. Here are their stories.
Jillian Bullock, fitness director, Environmental Protection Agency
How she was affected: A U.S. veteran, mixed martial artist and boxer, Jillian Bullock has spent the past five years working as the fitness director at the EPA’s Philadelphia office. Along with her coworkers, she was furloughed during the government shutdown, but the effects of the crisis acted as sort of a wake-up call.
How she handled it: “It's always been my mission to work for myself and leave the 9-to-5 job behind,” Bullock says. So she spent her furlough building her fitness and filmmaking business, Jillian Bullock Enterprises. Projects she worked on during the shutdown included a film about veterans using mixed martial arts therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“I do want to go back to work because I'm not getting a paycheck, but I'm not going to mope around and play the pity game,” Bullock said during the furlough. “I am working on improving myself and my life. My goal is to get to the point where I'm making movies full time and branding my fitness business so I don't have to rely on the government, or anyone else, for a job. [The] shutdown forced me to focus more on my business. No job is guaranteed, and I no longer want to be dependent on leaving my fate in the hands of anyone else but myself.”
Laura Flynn, early childhood special education teacher, Head Start
How she was affected: While federally funded special education programs were not affected by the government shutdown, the program where Laura Flynn works is located in a Head Start preschool in Alabama. When the government shut down, that Head Start was one of many that lost its government grant funding for the year and was scheduled to close.
How she handled it: Flynn, her coworkers and parents of children in the program rode an emotional roller coaster throughout the 16 days of the shutdown. First, they were told the program would close on Oct. 11, when funding ran out. Next, they were told philanthropists had offered funding to keep the school open, but then the money was not available because Head Start was under the local school district’s jurisdiction. Finally, the school district relinquished its grant so that Head Start could come under the authority of a community action group and accept the donation.
“It has been stressful and disconcerting to work in a place of uncertainty,” Flynn says. With a shortened workday, Flynn and other special ed teachers were required to serve an overload of students in a shorter time. As a result, “the activity level within our classroom has increased significantly, and our established routine has been suspended,” she says. “As a teacher, I know that consistency is crucial, and to disrupt our students mid-year would be detrimental. My co-workers have made the best of things, and clearly have the interest of the children at heart. We have done our best to communicate the most recent happenings with our parents, and are doing our best to meet the needs of our students.”
Maggie Shartel, disabled veteran, graduate student, Etsy shop owner
How she was affected: A disabled veteran married to an active duty soldier and living on a military base in Washington state, Maggie Shartel says the government shutdown was just another bump in the roller coaster that has become government employment. “While technically we are ‘not affected’ per the news, we really are,” she says. The Commissary, or on-base grocery store, closed for a few days. Shartel and her husband were “on edge about pay — again,” she says. “As Congress battled, both my husband’s military pay and my veteran’s disability were up in the air. My reopened disability claim was also on hold until the Veterans Administration could find out if they had funding.”
How she handled it: Shartel says she spent her time working on her online retail business, where she sells handmade jewelry, but she couldn’t escape the stress. “The constant wondering is stress inducing,” she says. “I wondered when I would have to talk to my landlord about our lease if neither of us gets paid. If my disability doesn't come in, that is a large portion of our grocery budget for the month. It's a constant battle of never knowing. Now I don't know if the market is going to tank and if my business will go under. While it seems like it was not a direct hit for our family, we are going on several years of ups and downs related to not having a continuous budget. Continuing resolutions do not suffice because they keep so many people on edge.”
Linda Burke-Galloway, M.D., federal contractor
How she was affected: A self-described “older mother” with middle school children, Linda Burke-Galloway and her family depend on her income to pay the mortgage and other expenses each month. But her federal contracting job, in which she provides risk management, compliance and medical liability consulting to federal agencies as a contractor, came to a sudden stop when the government shut down. “One of the great things about being a consultant is that you have more flexibility with your time but you also do not have a steady income nor do you receive benefits,” Burke-Galloway says.
How she handled it: Fortunately, Burke-Galloway’s husband was still working throughout the shutdown, “but it put pressure on him as the sole income earner in the family,” she says. Burke-Galloway spent a lot of time “watching the news, hoping to hear good news,” but it was a long time coming, she says. And the wait led her to lose some faith in the nation. “Our country is considered to be a world leader,” she says. “Our economy was showing signs of recovery prior to the furlough. My biggest concern is that we will adversely affect the global economy.”
Miriam Liberatore, planning and environmental coordinator, Bureau of Land Management
How she was affected: A federal government engineer working on a new natural gas pipeline in Oregon, Miriam Liberatore was sent home for more than two weeks during the shutdown. As the sole provider of income for her family, which includes a high school student and a college student, Liberatore says after taxes, insurance and retirement deductions, living expenses use up the rest of every paycheck — so going without paychecks wasn’t easy.
How she handled it: Liberatore considered finding part-time work but “who would hire me, knowing I would leave them the minute the shutdown is over?” she says. She applied for unemployment insurance but couldn’t supply proper paperwork — all her pay stubs were stored at work and she wasn’t allowed to access them, and the federal websites from which they could be downloaded or where the state could verify her wages were also shut down.
To cut expenses, Liberatore and her family stopped eating out and going to movies, concerts or plays, and delayed normal seasonal purchases like winter clothes and gravel for maintaining their driveway. But the shutdown affected more than her finances. “It was the first time I’ve ever been off work in almost 30 years, even counting when I had my children,” Liberatore says. “It’s strange, having arranged my life for 30 years around my work, to not have that structure all of a sudden and for an indeterminate length of time. It’s nothing at all like being on vacation.”
The worst part, Liberatore says, was not knowing how long the shutdown would last. “It’s like having a long string of Sundays,” she says. “Every day has the potential to be followed by a work day.”
Crystal Kendrick, president, marketing research firm The Voice of Your Customer
How she was affected: Crystal Kendrick’s marketing research firm works regularly as a federal contractor for the National Institutes of Health. As a result of the government shutdown, her company’s contracts and work assignments were put on hold and outstanding invoices were not processed. Additionally, because so few federal RFPs were released during the shutdown “the future workload of federal contractors will be affected as well,” she says.
How she handled it: Frustrated to see her company’s resources sit idle and wait for delayed receivables, Kendrick assigned her staff to other internal activities and located other resources to manage their cash flow. She also delayed spending with contractors and other suppliers. “The shutdown is about more than national parks and zoos, landscaping and passports,” Kendrick says. “The effect of this shutdown on federal contractors, medical research and federally funded social services is becoming insurmountable.”
Jenna Shepard, U.S. Army civilian spouse, homeschooling mother
How she was affected: Jenna Shepard left her communications job a few years ago to stay home with her children while her husband Daniel works for the U.S. Army as a civilian government employee. When the government closed, Daniel joined the rest of the family at home.
How she handled it: “The government shutdown has left families like ours feeling like we are pawns in a political game,” Shepard says. “It left us living on hundreds less each month, and with a lot less faith in our current political representatives in Washington.”
Shepard says the family put off many purchases, from clothes for the kids to major household products. “For many families this isn’t about not getting to see the Statue of Liberty during vacation or missing out on a National Park visit,” she says. “This is about hundreds of thousands of families with children and a mortgage and bills not knowing when their next paycheck will come.”