State employees speak: The consequences of shutdown

State employees speak: The consequences of shutdown
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen

More than 100 state employees shared their experiences of the looming shutdown through The Intelligencer’s crowdsourcing efforts. Now we hear from them again. Most are among the 22,000 who were laid off. Some speak of a sort of “survivor’s guilt” from hollowed-out agencies. I’ll be sharing their voices here, with frequent updates. If you are a state employee who has not added your voice, you can do so using this simple and secure form.

A note about the identity of state employee sources: MinnPost has a detailed database of information on all state employees and we are using it to confirm the identities of the people who contact us through the crowdsourcing form. When an employee does not provide a full name and contact information, we do not publish the employee’s comments.

Voices from the shutdown (updated 7/13/11 at 7:00 AM)

“I’ve already had to drain some of my savings to keep up on the bills, I’ve contacted my mortgage company to ask for an extension, and I won’t receive a check from unemployment until maybe next week.

“Even though it’s early in the process, I’m like most families in that I’m probably two missing paychecks away from financial ruin. That fear just paralyzes you.

“The huge silence you hear from 22,000 laid off workers is nothing but fear and desperation settling in and taking over.  If we get called back in two weeks it will take months for us to get caught up again with our finances. If it goes two months, I think you will see irreparable damage and maybe even homelessness. Only then do I think anyone will actually care about us — but by then it will be too late.”  — Laid off Department of Human Services employee

“My spouse and I have enough savings to last a while.  I feel most badly for those colleagues who are younger and haven’t had the time to save.  I know of at least two who don’t know if they’ll be able to make August rent.

“In addition to conducting a job search for myself, I have warned off several bright young prospects from my alma mater (where I do career days), telling them to take their talents elsewhere — that right now in public service, your bosses don’t respect you. We can only assume this is what Minnesotans want when they tolerate this level of dysfunction and uncertainty from their elected representatives.”  — Laid off Department of Employment and Economic Development employee

“Like all laid off employees, I don’t have a job anymore. I am lucky enough to receive unemployment in a couple of weeks, but that doesn’t go very far to paying my bills.  I am more fortunate than some of my colleagues, however.”  — Laid off Department of Transportation employee

“My husband is laid off. Luckily, I am not. I am happy to be working, but everything is in limbo.  There are a lot of decisions not being made.”  — Department of Human services employee who is still on the job

“I’ve reduced discretionary spending to a minimum level.  I’m not really going anywhere.  I’ve also been relatively active contacting legislators and letting them know that I think they need to compromise with Governor Dayton.”  — Laid of Pollution Control Agency employee

“I am very lucky to be among the people working, but I know several who aren’t. I worry about them. Lots of us have survivor’s guilt. It’s like after a natural disaster. You see people you work with, and you’re asking, ‘Did so and so make it?’ and ‘How is this person doing with the layoffs will they make it through without working?’  

“I worry about all the great people we lost to hasty retirement to avoid this mess, and all the others we’ll lose to better pay in the private sector where you don’t have to be a political football every two years or lose your job twice in six years through no fault of your own.”  — Department of Corrections employee who is still on the job

“I went into this prepared to be laid off for about two months. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

“During the last days on the job, folks continued working hard with great composure, but there were mixed emotions under the surface. No one really knew, of course, if the lights would go off. There was apprehension that some legislators were too inexperienced at negotiation. In their comments it was apparent that some of them didn’t know the difference between mediation and arbitration.

“On the other hand, negotiation can’t be gauged by public comments. In the end, the inexperience made a difference. Mixing flexibility and ideology works as well as mixing water and oil.

“I recognized that the parts of my life most affected by the shutdown would be my sense of productivity and accomplishment, and the loss of social interaction with colleagues and stakeholders.

“To keep feeling productive, I remind myself that I am not on vacation, and I work every day, mostly around the house. Roof repairs and other chores are first on my priority list.

“For social interaction, I’ve already spent a significant amount of time helping family and friends with child care, senior care, respite care and even pet-sitting. This is being good to others, but it’s really being good to me — helping me avoid a potential mental health hazard.”  — Laid off Minnesota Management and Budget employee

“To be honest, I’m very scared. The situation doesn’t look as though it will be resolved very soon, and we have only enough savings for a couple of months.

“I just completed treatment for late stage cancer. My cancer has a good chance of returning, and in six months, I’ll have no health insurance other than Cobra, which is $1300 per month. Pretty hard to pay when your income is zero.  

“I have a wonderful husband, but our Plan C is to divorce if things get really bad. My chances at state or federal health care are much better if I’m single. I can’t believe that it’s come to this.  

“Now, not only the weight of cancer recurrence is hanging over my head, but also the chance of permanently losing my job if the Senate and House have their way with spending cuts to state government.  

“I and so many of my co-workers are hard-working, dedicated people. I miss them, I miss my supervisor, and I miss my job.”   — Laid off  Pollution Control Agency employee

“So far the shutdown has been a hassle. Applying for unemployment insurance, I encountered glitches in the system. It took hours and two phone calls. I was told I had a problem with the last 18 months of my work record because I was out for a few months on medical leave for surgery and recovery.

“Even though I filled in all the appropriate spaces on the application, including that I returned to work in November with no work restrictions, I was told they would mail me supplemental paperwork. I just received it today, July 11, and it requires me to return it, completed by my doctor, by July 14. The letter is dated July 6, so it took 5 days to get to me. I imagine they are extremely busy. It is difficult with the Workforce Centers closed.

“I live an hour north of St. Paul, I attended the rally last Wednesday. I also spent an afternoon at the Har Mar Mall, telling everyone who would listen, even people from out-of-state, about what a mess our state is in, and that I believe Governor Dayton must hold strong for the future of the state.”  — Laid off Department of Education employee

“I am working with a financial counselor to deal with having no pay, including a mortgage loan modification and possibly even foreclosure. I’ve filed for unemployment insurance but would get less than half my work income and not until the third week of the shutdown. I’m applying for jobs outside of state employment because if the shutdown goes on much longer, I can’t afford to wait it out. I held a garage sale to make a little extra money and will sell anything I can on ebay.

“I know a number of people who aren’t state workers who are affected by the shutdown. One man can’t start a new job in the private sector because it requires a background check that the state needs to run, so he has to wait until the shutdown ends to start work. Another person works in a restaurant in downtown St. Paul and her hours have been cut drastically since government workers are a big part of their clientele.”  — Laid off Department of Administration employee

“The first week wasn’t bad. We felt it would be a short duration so I wasn’t too worried about it. But hearing on the news that the ‘leaders’ met less than two hours in four days was really frustrating!  My husband and I (both laid off state employees) are figuring and re-figuring to make sure we can cover bills with six days without pay each (counting the first Friday) before unemployment kicks in.

“We are definitely only buying necessities and every purchase requires a lot of thought.  And the July 1 storm brought trees down on our garage, so we are dealing with a $1,000 deductible to cover before insurance even begins. When it rains, it pours! (Pun was definitely intended.)

“As the days drag on with no one talking, it is difficult to keep our spirits up. The hardest part is the lack of good information. The news says one thing, the Governor’s office another, and my legislators (one of the two has e-mailed me a couple of times) say yet another.  Are the republicans being stubborn? Did Dayton really cut a meeting short and walk out saying he had to walk his dogs?  Are they both going to hold their breath until Minnesotans are the ones to pass out?

“We are hurt and sad that so many have turned against us instead of fighting with us to keep the state strong and great. Instead, we are all letting these few politicians ruin everything. I don’t get it.”  — Laid off Department of Education employee

“I am looking for new employment. It is so frustrating to see our ‘leaders’ not getting their work done. It seems to me that there ought to be a safety net of some sort to avoid this problem.”  — Laid off Department of Health employee

“I got my fridge and stove cleaned, even behind and underneath. I hope this week we can clean the carpets. I have been doing fun things with my grandkids and I honestly am enjoying the time off. I am sure we will get out on the lakes soon. I am practicing for retirement.

“With unemployment and savings, we will be okay financially and can hang on for a long time. I feel really bad for the state workers who are strapped and I feel the worst for people who depend on the services state workers provide. People have no idea what kind of things we do that will have an effect down deep in the economy.”  — Laid off Department of Transportation employee

“Anxiety is probably the biggest factor.  The unknown is difficult to deal with.  I have stopped all of my automatic payments to my creditors to be in more control over when my bills are paid when they come due.  I have had to contact my banking institutions and negotiate a ‘bridge’ of credit until the shutdown ends.  It will be at least two weeks after we do get back to work before I get a full paycheck.  

“I have had to apply for unemployment compensation for the first time ever and I have been working since I was 12 years old.  It’s sad to see those that suffer for lack of services that the government provides.  I intend to stand by Governor Dayton’s recommendations and I’m hoping that the other side is at least willing to compromise as much as the Governor has.”  — Laid off Department of Human Services employee

“So far, so good. I’ve got a lot of exercise, spent time at my parents’ cabin, and did some house projects. I have not spent very much money and people are buying me drinks and dinner. Of course, I received a full check two weeks ago and an almost full check is coming this Friday. After that, it will be a mess. Been drinking a lot more than normal. Though the stress that I was feeling the week before the shutdown has mostly dissipated. I feel so much less stress now that there is nothing that can be done.”  — Laid off Department of Human Services employee

“I have always had a job. I’ve never had to apply for unemployment before. For me, it is distressing to do so. Not knowing how long this will last is very stressful. At first I thought it would last a couple of weeks, but now I think it is going to last longer.

“The hardest thing about this experience is the hatred for public employees that has surfaced and the blame given to us by the public. We are just like everyone else going to work everyday; we pay the same taxes everyone else does, no discounts to state employees; we pay our property taxes and have seen them go up like the general public. I have a professional license I maintain as a requirement of employment and my employer does not reimburse me that cost.”  — Laid off Department of Health employee

“I find myself getting more and more angry and frustrated with those in the legislature. I fired off several ‘nasty grams’ the other morning after learning that my senator was still receiving her check.  Since unemployment insurance doesn’t start paying until next week I am now depending on my teenagers’ part time, minimum wage job to buy groceries and gas!  And since the program she works for is partially funded by the state, she may get laid off too if this continues.”  — Laid off Department of Transportation employee

“My family is viewing this as a positive challenge.  Our ancestors weathered far worse during the World Wars and Great Depression. It’s our chance to do our part of the people of Minnesota by living with less so that others might have a chance at an affordable education and attainable health services.

“Several of my coworkers and I are using this time period to seek other permanent employment or start businesses of our own.  It is my personal intention to not return to employment at the state — if so, not for very long. By electing the present legislature, the public has spoken loud and clear regarding how they feel about people who work in public service. Many of the talented, hardworking people who made things run have taken that to heart.”  — Laid off Department of Transportation employee

“The Governor has the high ground on this one.  The very idea that state spending can remain static while inflation raises the costs of needed government services simply surpasses understanding.  I don’t want to live in a cold Mississippi, and I’ll stay out as long as it takes to head that off.  I don’t want to be in this situation, but if my union forebears could sacrifice to get us the five-day, 40-hour week, vacation and sick leave, and other things that made our society more humane, then I can do this.”  — Laid off Pollution Control Agency employee

“The first week was fine — it felt more like the first week of summer vacation after school lets out. I was able to get some things done around the apartment and relax. Then reality slowly started to kick in. I applied for unemployment and I requested and received forbearance for my student loans. Now I need to budget so that unemployment will cover rent.

“What I was not prepared for is how this was going to affect me mentally and emotionally. Yesterday, Day 11, was particularly hard. Our leaders are not talking and there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency anywhere. It feels like we have reached this place of complacency where we just kind of sit back and hope things work out. Maybe if I ‘like’ this article on Facebook or sign that digital petition, then they will get the message. Unfortunately, that is not always effective.

“Then, on the other side, there is displaced anger and hatred. People who have this kind of outrage are vulnerable to the misinformation and straight up lies they are fed, which are often perpetuated in mainstream media. When you hear over and over that state employees are worthless and are sucking money from taxpayers, even though you know it is not true, it starts to take a toll.

“So right now I feel frustration, disappointment, and serious lack of support from fellow Minnesotans. I am contemplating looking to the private sector for work that will bring higher pay. Is that what Minnesotans want? To receive the same services at a higher premium? Without public employees, that is what we are going to get.”  — Laid off Department of Commerce employee                            

“I worry about my colleagues with families. I also worry that morale will be terrible once we finally return to work.

“I’m a person with a physical severe disability and require 24-hour nursing care. I need to hire a new nurse but can’t do so until the shutdown ends because the state isn’t enrolling new Medical Assistance providers. I’m beginning to wonder how my care will be affected if the shutdown isn’t resolved soon.

“Much of the budget impasse can be attributed to people like me — people with disabilities. Our care is expensive. But without these services, I would not be able to hold a job, pay my mortgage, and otherwise be a productive citizen. I’m disappointed at the Republicans’ inability to appreciate how detrimental their proposed cuts would be for people with disabilities and others who, for whatever reason, need assistance to stay healthy and safe.

“I really want to get back to work. But I don’t want to get it back at the cost of screwing over people who are more disadvantaged than me.”  — Laid off Department of Human Services employee

“For me, the biggest impact is emotional.  I love my job, but, more importantly, I love this state and want to see it flourish.

“What the general public needs to understand is that state agencies have been getting cut for ten years now.  What increases there have been have not kept pace with the need for services.  We have been doing more and more with less and less, and we’re at a breaking point.

“Many public employees are doing the work of two or three people, so it’s particularly demoralizing to be portrayed as lazy and shiftless.  I worked in the private sector in a very successful, highly competitive firm, and my public sector colleagues work every bit as hard as my private sector colleagues did.  There are a few bad apples — just as there were in my private sector job.  But the vast majority of us are committed to providing excellent service and a good return on the taxpayers’ investment.”  — Laid off Department of Natural Resources employee

“We cannot make our August rent payment.  The stress on the family is indescribable.  My wife is trying to pick up extra shifts, but the pickings are slim and she is tired.  Unemployment will not pay out for another week and we are at a loss.  I will have to try and borrow from family.”  — Laid off Department of Human Services employee

“I have worked for the state for over 20 years and have always been proud of the part that I play in protecting the health of the citizen’s of Minnesota, unfortunately I was not declared essential. However, some of the services I provide were declared essential but those duties were given to high paid management instead of a lowly AFSMCE employee.

“I don’t blame my fellow employees but I do blame the decision makers in the agency. The shutdown has made me feel betrayed by the state legislature, by the health department and by the very citizens I have spent my career serving. At this point, I can survive financially but I worry about what the future will bring and when I can return to the job that I love.”  — Laid off Department of Health employee

“I am struggling to accept help from others and to make peace with no one expecting me each day. Having my days free isn’t the vacation it sounds like because there is no certainty in when we will return, whether my husband and I can make it through this financially, and whether or not my career at the state is permanently over. After 11 years, I didn’t think this would be the way it ended.

“I am beginning my job search today because a $578 a week unemployment insurance payment isn’t enough and because I need to feel like I have a purpose. I want to contribute and I need to feel pride again in knowing that I am working toward something.”  — Laid off Department of Employment and Economic Development employee

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Kathy Strauch on 07/12/2011 - 01:55 pm.

    Husband and I are both state employees; not working. I can’t believe the Legislative leaders cannot come to compromise. Reading what economists have said, you can’t have cuts without revenue, these people just won’t work together. I’ve heard from Republican legislators that support revenue (tax) increases!

    A real kick in the pants happened June 30. My husband was on the critical employee list and was told weeks prior that he was on the list to work. Then, all of a sudden, because of a “clerical error” he was not on the list!

    I do believe we should be OK. No mortgage payments; we haven’t gone out to eat much; told charities that have called, that, no, we will not give, cannot give; reduced grocery spending; we do not buy a lot of stuff, so that’s no problem. We’ve done this since January.

    I’ve had to deal with my husband’s self-depreciation these last few weeks.

    Get the budget done right for Minnesota!

  2. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/12/2011 - 06:38 pm.

    To those of you who feel the public is blaming you for the shutdown, please know that those who do have been brainwashed by the anti-government, anti-worker, REALLY anti-union far-right creators of the current mindset of the far right in our society.

    The rest of us sympathize with you and hope the shutdown can end soon. Revenue in the form of fair and progressive taxation must be on the table and must be part of the solution, however, or we’ll never get out of the current mess.

    One thing that could help a lot is to make the HMOs who have $1.5 billion in State payments to provide coverage for MinnCare, Medicaid and MA patients should be forced to return that money to the state treasury.

    Question: Are there county or city or nonprofit providers of in-home assistance who might be able to help those of you with disabilities who need such services?

  3. Submitted by Lynn Wehrman on 07/14/2011 - 04:50 pm.

    Just wanted to say thank you to Bernice Vetsch for taking the time to voice something positive about state employees.

    I have worked most of my life for private industry, then, out of a desire to be of service to others, went to nonprofit and then state work. It has not been a bed of roses or an optimal career move.

    A few weeks ago, people who live in my apartment building were discussing me and how lazy I am (as a state employee) without knowing I was listening.

    Hearing such conversations, and being turned out of my workplace on June 30th, has benn demoralzing. It was helpful to hear that someone understands that some of us are good, hardworking people. Thank you.

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