For 25 days now, the longest federal government shutdown in history has been dragging on, leaving more than 800,000 federal workers either furloughed from their jobs or forced to work without pay.
For the men and women affected, the struggle to pay rent and buy groceries without a salary has been an incredible challenge. And as the weeks drag on with no end in sight, some of them have turned to an unusual option for help.
More than 1,500 federal workers have set up GoFundMe accounts, asking for money on the internet to make sure that they cover their rent.
1,500 GoFundMe campaigns in 25 days
Federal contract worker Julie Burr talks to CNN about the GoFundMe account she set up to make ends meet through the shutdown. (Video courtesy of CNN)Campaigns from federal workers have flooded the GoFundMe website. At this moment, it’s the very first thing you’ll see, right on their very front page, where a campaign called “Chefs for Feds” promising to feed federal workers in D.C. is posted as an “urgent cause”.
It isn’t just charitable organizations, though, that are asking for money. Individual workers have taken to the site, looking for enough money to make their rents or to cover the handful of paychecks they’ll miss while Congress fights it out.
Some have been huge successes. One set up by a woman named Julie Burr received an outpouring of support after she appeared on CNN talking about her struggles and, at this time, has raised $12,045.
Another furloughed worker, librarian Anna Cory, got national attention when she held what she called a “Government Shutdown Yard Sale,” selling antique books from her private collection to rustle up enough change for groceries. Cory capitalized on the attention with a GoFundMe, which, to date, has raised $5,098.
Their stories surely helped inspire the 1,500 other workers who took to the site in hopes a few generous souls will be willing send over a thousand dollars or two.
But as much money as a couple of lucky cases have been able to bring in, for most, GoFundMe has hardly been able to replace a steady paycheck. Not every worker gets attention on the news, and for plenty of furloughed workers, GoFundMe has been a dry well.
A local furloughed worker in Henrieville who has offered to send coffee and photographs in exchange for donations has only been able to raise $630, while a Utah TSA agent had yet to raise a single dime when this story was published.
Those other hundreds of thousands of workers who haven’t been able to convince the public to send them money online have been forced to resort to other measures.
Desperate times and desperate measures
Thousands of furloughed federal employees have been forced to apply for unemployment to make it through the shutdown. In the Washington D.C. area alone, more than 9,000 federal workers have already applied.
Unemployment checks, however, aren’t meant to cover the standard of living most full-time federal workers have locked themselves into. In D.C., the checks are capped at $425 a week; not quite enough to pay the $2,072 needed to pay rent for an average apartment.
To cover those extra bills, some have turned to quick solutions with long-term side effects. The Washington Post reports that many have started dipping into their retirement plans early, taking a 10 percent penalty fee and added taxes so they can pay bills today with money they’d saved for tomorrow.
Others are taking out loans. Some banks have even set up special programs promising quick, one-time loans for furloughed federal employees.
The Navy Federal Credit Union, for example, is offering a one-time loan of up to $6,000 for anyone who has been pushed out of work by the shutdown. The money, though, has to be repaid back fast; as soon as money starts coming back in, the bank will automatically take its repayment from their paycheck.
Whatever the means, federal workers are finding ways to make ends meet. It’s hard to say, though, how long these options will hold them over until the shutdown ends.
Dave & Dujanovic weigh in
KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic talked about the surge of federal worker GoFundMe accounts on the air and their best tips to make sure that you have enough money put aside to keep this from happening to you. If you missed the show live, you can still catch everything they had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast:
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