Federal workers bracing for no paychecks as government shutdown drags on

Federal workers prepare to receive no paycheck this Friday as government shutdown drags on (ABC7)

Joanna McCleland is bracing for Friday and a paycheck that’s not coming.

“I can barely leave my house,” she says. “I’m having to track nearly every dollar we’re spending.”

McCleland, a program analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, has been furloughed since December 21.

The ensuing weeks have been a time of financial uncertainty and hard choices.

“I got physically sick just from the worrying and the not knowing, and everything that’s going on,” McCleland declares.

Highly qualified with a Master’s degree, she’s worked for the federal government for three-and-a-half years.

This is her third shutdown.

The other two were short ordeals; one lasted a weekend, the other, just one hour.

But by this weekend, the current shutdown will be the longest ever experienced by federal agencies and hundreds of thousands of employees.

McCleland is among those caught in the middle.

“So if I don’t get the next paycheck, the water bill doesn’t get paid, the utility bill doesn’t get paid,” she says. “My car payment doesn’t get paid. My kid’s school lunches don’t get paid for.”

She’s the primary breadwinner for her husband Matthew and her nine-year-old son Henry.

There is some money coming in: Matthew works part-time as a librarian in Haymarket.

Meanwhile, McCleland has filed for unemployment.

She figures if she’s qualified, her family could receive about $400 a week.

But there’s a caviat: the Office of Personnel Management says if federal employees receive retroactive pay, after getting unemployment benefits, they’ll have to pay the unemployment funds back.

The family finances face yet another roadblock: McCleland isn’t allowed to get a second job without DHS clearance; a standard check for ethics violations.

It’s a shutdown Catch-22.

“Since DHS is currently closed, I can’t get permission to go get a second job,” she says. “Now I have to nickel and dime and buy the bare essentials until I know whether I’m going to get a paycheck again.”

McCleland has taken other steps; she’s had to defer on her school and car loans.

She’s not sure what will happen to her travel stipend, issued by DHS.

Lastly, the family opted for no holiday presents this year.

There was one bright spot: the McClelands went on a short getaway to Hershey, Pennsylvania; the trip already paid for, long before the shutdown.

“Why should my kid have to suffer, and it’s a cheap trip, it’s a two hour drive,” McCleland says. “But I’m like, to even just that little bit, I was like oh my God, $50 bucks to get into the park. To even just that little bit, I was like oh my God, can I afford to spend this?”

Still, the idea of politicians controlling her family’s lives, is frustrating.

“They don’t care about me, they don’t care about the people I work with, they don’t care about our lives and our incomes,” McCleland says. “We’re just like a faceless the fed. They’re just playing with our lives.”

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