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The waiting game: What state employees are doing at home to prepare for a shutdown

With a government shutdown imminent, we reached out to state employees bracing for a shutdown and asked how they are preparing at work and home. They spoke of vulnerable Minnesotans who may experience a delay or freeze in critical services, projects that will be put on hold, and contractors who won't be paid. What will happen to state services in the event of a shutdown is still coming into focus, but preparations at employees' homes have been underway for weeks or months (especially in homes where both income earners have state jobs).

I've collected comments on home preparations here. They illustrate a fact of the government stalemate: the battle is deeply partisan, but its collateral damage transcends politics and ideology.

Your Voices (updated 6/8/11 at 4:15 PM)

Note: We have been directly in touch with each commenter quoted here and have agreed to use only their first names to protect their identity at this uniquely sensitive time. What you see here reflects the unknowns of the moment; more information on the details of a shutdown are coming in daily. Want to add your experience as a state employee preparing at home for a possible shutdown? You can share it in the comments, or confidentially using this form. I'll be adding comments as they come in.

"No unnecessary purchases right now. I'm going to my medical doctor, eye doctor, and dentist now for some of my routine exams instead of July or August. I've contacted my creditors to let them know of the situation. I've collected home email addresses from some of my work 'family' so we can stay in touch to support each other."  — Cathy

"I have managed to get three months ahead on the mortgage. My five-year wedding anniversary is in September and I am waiting for an end to the shutdown before planning something to celebrate that."  — Todd

"We're cutting back wherever possible to try to save money, although we were also hit by the tornado and so there are the added unexpected expenses from that to be dealt with as well."  — Kristin

"I've been polishing up my resume because I am already underpaid for my degree and experience and I'm getting tired of jerked around by politicians and not appreciated for the work that I do."  — Barb

"I'm very angry that many hardworking employees will face financial ruin because they live paycheck to paycheck (like most working families). I'm angry that at 60 years of age, after 30 years of employment, with a husband on Social Security, and while taking care of my 82 year old sister I have to serve as a pawn in a politcal stand-off."  — Jill

"Trying to save money, but doing it poorly. Just applied for a new credit card in case this happens. Thinking about stockpiling some beer and wine since I have money coming in now."  — Kassie

"I'm 5 months pregnant and my husband is unemployed. He graduated with an AS in nursing and is an RN, but there is no work for new nursing graduates. With my income we live frugally, but can still afford small luxuries. Luckily, we've saved up quite a bit of money for my maternity leave so a few weeks without a paychcheck won't put us behind on our mortgage or cause us to go hungry. It will, however, cut short my maternity leave and this is cause of great mourning for all of us. I could potentially have all my vacation and sick time cashed out and not be able to use it during my leave, further cutting into our leave income.

"We have stopped all discretionary spending — no more restaurant meals, no toys from the Goodwill for my son, no more ice cream at Como Zoo. We already don't have a second car, a television, or cell phone plans so there is little else to cut. My husband found a part-time job that he can work if I am laid off. Right now it doesn't make sense as he wouldn't make enough to cover the day care costs for our son, but if I was home he could take the work."  — Dana

"I am very financially conservative/thrifty/miserly and so have ample cash savings. My wife is employed as well, and I have a few other income streams. Far from seeing a government job as a 'stable' situation I have always experienced it as being riskier than the private sector. In 2002 my agency was cut and 50% of my coworkers were laid off. Every budget session there is a real chance that my job will be cut. So I have been trained to expect this and have planned accordingly."  — Andrew

"I'm buying bulk foods and calling creditors to let them know I might be late on some bills." —  Sarah

"We're saving money, getting doctor visits in before health insurance gets pulled, and postponing plans to start a family."  — Ally

"I'm budgeting as best I can. My biggest problems are the fixed costs of rent and student loans  — especially student loans. I can take a hit of a few days, but the longer this drags out, the harder it will be to make those payments." — Abby

"My wife and I had to put our student loans on forbearance to save money for our mortgage. We also may have to pay $700 per month for our health insurance which will be difficult on one salary."  — Paul

"I am trying to put some money away to cover costs in the event of a shutdown, but when you live pay check to pay check, there isn't much possibility of that happening."  — Cheryl

"I'm cleaning more than I used to — channeling the nervous energy. When I'm having a hard time there's a restaurant in town I like to go to and it just makes me happy, but I can't do that. That sucks.

"No snacks out, no going down to the soft serve ice cream store, no Pizza Ranch, none of that. We go out to eat far less than once a week, but we didn't even do that as we watched the legislature close down." — Kathie

"I'm cashing out CDs and putting them into money market accounts. My husband and I both work for the same agency so a lengthy shutdown will be a problem. We're going over expenses and deciding what we can start living without."  — Ruth

"We're having a huge garage sale this weekend. Hoping to get enough to pay for our mortgage and health insurance, since my husband is also a state employee. We've been saving in anticipation of a shutdown but we won't last long. Told the kids no to summer camps and extras like movies, treats at the store, and summer clothes. We've also looked into food shelves. Praying to God it doesn't happen."  — Beth

"I'm saving money, preparing for a garage sale or two, knitting as usual, and catching up on sewing projects. Our children are grown up and have moved out of our home. I feel for the people who have children to care for, and elderly parents."  — Mary

"I'm trying to cut out frivolous purchases so that we can save as much as possible, just in case. But it's hard because we buy so few frivolous things to begin with."  — Brooke

"I've squirreled some money, but not much, to help pay the mortgage and keep food on the table. I am nervous, but I try not to think about a shutdown and those who will be affected. I am very nervous about the population that relies on state services, like those in nursing homes and other vulnerable populations. I really don't want to see them suffer any more than they already have."  — Robyn

"I've updated my resume and applied for non-State jobs since I'm not a classified employee and there's no guarantee I'll have a job to come back to after a shutdown. I'm scheduling medical and dental appointments before July and exploring emergency health care plans in case I lose my health insurance."  — Jane

"Not much we can do. We live paycheck to paycheck. My husband is a heart patient and presently working but underemployed due to the economy. Health insurance is through my job. We don't earn enough to save enough to cover this kind of catastrophe. Ultimately, if the shutdown happens we will not have insurance, and could lose our home. I am seeking work elsewhere whether or not the shutdown happens."  — Vicki

"We plan to travel out of state the first part of July. There's no sense staying in a state where the parks are closed."  — Doug


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Comments (11)

Co-workers, get your Federal student loans in forbearance now. It is easy and you can resume paying when this whole thing is fixed. It doesn't hurt your credit and will save you one fixed payment for the duration.

I hope we're also going to see the comments about service cuts, this has gotten very short shrift thus far in the media. The only thing that's been discussed thus far has been state parks and driver's license services. Minnesotan's need to know what services their going to be losing when their government shuts down.

I just went to update my drivers license after moving (the Washington County License Center in Stillwater was great, by the way.) Every transaction I could hear, someone asked about the shutdown.

I should have my replacement license before the shutdown, but they told me they'll restamp my paper copy as long as necessary.

Paul, you'll see those comments. Waiting to learn a little bit more about what the shutdown will look like. That's also true of the people who have written about the issue using our form. Hoping for a post on this sometime next week.

No one knows what services will be stopped. In my agency I could tell you the huge number of things that COULD be stopped, but some may be deemed essential. So no one can say one way or another at this point what will be shut down.

As a former federal employee I want to say two things.

First I appreciate the quality of care and dedication to service that many state employees provide to the public.

Second did anyone ever mention that if there is inefficiency in government it's because of political changes that make agencies do things multiple times. By statute many of the inefficiencies in government have been set up by the legislature so everyone can say "hey look at what I started".

When I started with the state ten years ago. I was unemployed. So I put money in Deferred Comp. 30 days after I leave state service I can get that money without penalty. I also canceled some home repair projects.

Seems to me that the youngest and the oldest will be the worst hit. I guess like always in this Reagan-memed era. Pity. As a Society (read Civilized Society) those are who we owe the most to.

Paul, I agree 110% with Kassie. The fact is nobody will know what is considered "essential" versus "nonessential" until a Special Master or judge rules accordingly. Probably a week or 10 days prior. The Commissioner in our agency has a list, but nowhere to go with it right now. The Republican leadership could care less. They have not cared for five months, so there is absolutely no reason to believe they will begin to care now.

I can tell you this much, with a new deadly strain of E-Coli floating around the world this is no time to have a skeleton crew working at Health Dept.

Yes, I can agree with everybody here so far. My job may or may not be 'essential' but I don't think it matters to too many people making the decisions. And I can still be bumped by somebody with more seniority but with just the "minimum" qualifications to do my rather specialized job. Even a short shutdown will cause huge disruption and job turnover. I cannot just hope for the best. I have to apply elsewhere and if I get lucky enough to have the option, I will have to leave. Maybe this mythical rich 'job creator' will hire some of us to wash his car.