Remember that movie “The Perfect Storm”? All these huge forces — weather fronts, a hurricane, gigantic waves — come together at the same time to threaten one little fishing boat. No matter what the captain does, eventually it capsizes and goes under.
I feel like that boat captain right now, trying desperately to keep my little family afloat — it’s just my 9-year-old son and me — while everything seems to be trying to capsize us.
Even in normal times, things are pretty tight for us. I’m a single mom, I’ve got student loans, and we never really take vacations. We manage, but when you live paycheck to paycheck the way we do, luxuries are pretty much out of reach. And these aren’t normal times.
First, that big earthquake hit Anchorage the week after Thanksgiving. It was like someone picked up our apartment, shook it for a while, dumped everything out of our cupboards, and then slammed it back down again. We lost a lot of food and dishes, but I was grateful my son and I came through it OK.
Around that time, talk about a government shutdown started, and then the holidays came. It’s hard enough to think about celebrating and giving presents after a natural disaster, but when you’re also worried about whether you’re going to get paid — well, it makes things a whole lot worse. Then the shutdown actually happened and I was placed on furlough. The boat really started rocking, if you will, and now I wonder every day I go without pay how my son and I will get through.
I like my work as a probate specialist in the Anchorage office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. People depend on our services, and we have a great team of folks. But we, and 800,000 other federal employees, somehow became political pawns, and now we’re sort of being held hostage. We have families and obligations — who’s thinking about us?
As a veteran who started my career in the Air Force in 1992 and then served in the Air Guard, and now in my current position, which I’ve held since 2015, I’ve spent a lot of my calling in public service. This is my third government shutdown, and they don’t get any easier.
What’s most on my mind is whether we’re going to make it. Anxiety is a real problem. I’m calling and writing creditors, explaining our situation and hoping they’ll hold off. Some will, but others won’t. My son already had some behavioral challenges; now, he’s picking up on my anxiety, and it’s really tough on him. He sees me not going to work and wants to stay home with me, so I have to explain that his work is going to school.
We’d been collecting things to sell in a yard sale this summer, but we can’t wait that long, so I’ve been putting them on Craigslist: a rice cooker, an ice shaver, a frozen yogurt maker. Just trying to raise a little money.
I’m glad Congress passed a law that we will eventually get our back pay if we can ever return to work, but that doesn’t buy groceries or gas right now. My last paycheck was on Jan. 1, and I honestly don’t know if I’m going to be able to make rent. I’m basically living on credit now, and it feels like we’re walking on really thin ice.
Fortunately, we have union representation through the Federation of Indian Service Employees, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT’s no-interest loan program — up to $1,500 for members — will be a lifeline for me and my co-workers until we start getting paid again.
For now, we do a lot of texting back and forth, supporting each other on furlough just like we do on the job, trying to keep one another as upbeat as possible. And some of these folks are in worse straits than I am. Just like with me, the anxiety for them is pretty unbearable. We all hope this shutdown gets resolved really soon — before lots of us capsize in the storm.
Dena Ivey is a furloughed probate specialist in the Anchorage office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a Federation of Indian Service Employees member and union steward.
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