Four days ago, I became part of a select group of American citizens. One that I am pretty sure no one wants to belong to — a furloughed federal employee.
Approximately 800,000 federal employees, like me, have been left literally hanging in the air regarding income and job status. However, we are not "really" unemployed; but are federal employees that have certain restrictions when it comes to finding another source of income as we await the end of this government shutdown.
I am sure that those in Congress who made the decision to shut down the government have no worries about how their mortgages will be paid. Or how they will put food on their tables, or pay their bills.
- Meryland Cuevas
According to the regulations of the Office of Personnel Management, (OPM), federal employees are subject to strict ethical standards and specific statutes, which prohibit certain outside activities (that may create possible conflicts of interest), and sometimes even prohibit certain types of outside employment. Therefore, we are required to ask for approval to seek outside employment to supplement our missing income, consulting with agency ethics officials for more information and concurrence. It is interesting, however, that OPM expects federal employees to follow this protocol, when, in fact, there is no one available to approve the request — because staff are also on furlough status. This definitely puts furloughed employees in a very difficult situation.
In the four days since I have been in this involuntarily furlough status and staying home, I check my bank account every day, hoping that the money that is there is not disappearing fast enough before I receive my next and last paycheck. Like thousands of employees who live pay check to pay check, we are struggling to stretch every dime to make ends meet.
Like so many of my federal co-workers, I have started processing my unemployment application, also contacted my creditors to inform them about my situation, in an effort to work out temporary payment arrangements for my bills, or delay my payment without affecting my credit. Some have been very understanding, and are already working on special provisions for people in my situation. Others do not have a plan yet, but are willing to accommodate requests by removing the late fees, once payments have been made with an explanation for the delayed payment.
As we all know, this furlough unfortunately occurred at the beginning of the month, a time when the majority of bills need to be paid (mortgage/rent, credit cards, car payments, utilities, etc.). I can only imagine the stress and desperation for thousands of families at this particular moment. I know of many single income families who now have no income at all. For me personally, both my significant other and I are federal employees, which means that there will be no income at all until this is resolved. This is a very new and unique experience for me, as I am fairly new in the government workforce, having only 3-1/2 years working for Uncle Sam. But this is not the first time federal employees have been under the threat of a furlough. Most were able to escape previous threats — barely.
I am sure that those in Congress who made the decision to shut down the government have no worries about how their mortgages will be paid. Or how they will put food on their tables, or pay their bills. And of course, unlike me, they will also sleep very well at night without needing to check their bank balances every day to see how slowly their savings are being reduced. They will not go to sleep uncertain of how they are going to be able to financially stay afloat.
They are not suffering from anxiety or insomnia. They probably sleep very well, and with a clear conscience, after their decision to take the federal workforce hostage by making us the collateral damage of their disagreements and political tantrums. I guess it's very easy to do, while pocketing hundreds of thousands of tax dollars — paid by people like me.
We should furlough the Congress. Better yet, we should fire them permanently and make them realize, perhaps how it feels to be in our shoes.
Meryland Cuevas is a mother, blogger, opinion maker, columnist, human rights activist, motivational speaker and a federal employee. Follow her on Facebook www.facebook.com/otrosveintepesos and Twitter @otros20pesos