And all of them have one thing in common: They were sent home on unpaid furlough last week after a political standoff between the president and Congress forced a partial shutdown of the federal government. More than 800,000 federal workers were affected at first, though the Pentagon has since recalled most of its idled 350,000 employees.
What these sidelined government employees are doing with their spare time varies as widely as the jobs they perform. Some are tightening their budgets at home, watching what they spend on food and other necessities, fearing it could be weeks before they earn another paycheck. Others are having a tough time keeping their workplace projects shelved and agency emails unread.
While Congress and the White House work on a deal to ensure furloughed workers receive back pay once the shutdown ends, some expenses can’t be put off, whether it’s replacing a broken furnace for $6,500 or buying diapers for a baby due before the month ends.
Here are the stories of just a few of the government workers directly affected by the shutdown.
As the government shutdown began its second week, Donna Cebrat was focused on stretching each dollar of her savings under the assumption she might not be able to return to work for a month or longer.
“Instead of having a dinner, I’ll have a bowl of cereal. Maybe for dinner and lunch. Or maybe I’ll go down to McDonald’s for a hamburger off the dollar menu,” said Cebrat, 46, who works for the FBI at its office in Savannah. “Lots of budget cuts. Not that I was living extravagantly before.”
Cebrat makes her living processing requests for public access to FBI records made under the Freedom of Information Act. She lives alone in a middle-class suburb and estimates the money in her savings account could last her anywhere from two to six months.
She checks headlines for any news on negotiations between the president and Congress, but said she avoids reading full stories or watching shutdown reports on TV that would only bring her down further.
“I don’t need to see the name-calling,” Cebrat said. “I just need to see the headline.”
Otherwise, Cebrat has spent her days sanding and repainting her bathroom walls — a new tub, toilet and vanity will have to wait until next year — and taking walks in her neighborhood. She’s avoided trips to the mall or the movies.
Jonathan Corso sat at his dining room table, the signs of a terrible week all around him.
At his feet, his family’s beloved dog, Dixie. The sad-eyed, 14-year-old spaniel/mutt has terminal cancer and the day before had been given only about a month to live. Under his feet, the banging of workmen installing a new $6,500 furnace at his Decatur bungalow after the old one broke.
And there was Corso, home at 9:30 on a Friday morning. He would normally be at work at the Atlanta regional office of the Economic Development Administration, a small federal agency that provides help and construction grants to industrial parks, colleges and local governments.
Corso, 44, and his wife, Liza, who works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were both furloughed.
In recent years, their federal jobs seemed stable while people working in state and local government and many private companies saw wage freezes or layoffs.
But now this.
The couple has savings, and they and their 7-year-old son should be fine financially for a while.
There have been a few silver linings: The couple went to lunch together on a weekday. Corso, a marathoner, began his daily 10-mile run at 6 a.m. rather than his more onerous 4:45 a.m. usual start time. That allowed him to stay up one night to watch a baseball game.
“We’re trying to make the best of it right now,” Corso said.