How Real Government Employees Suffered During the Shutdown: 'I Feel Helpless'

Nearly 800,000 government employees have been affected by the partial government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and ended Jan. 25, a result of President Donald Trump demanding $5.8 billion in funding for a wall bordering Mexico rather than accepting the $1.3 billion compromise proposed by the House. Airports, national parks, and even the White House have felt the brutal consequences of the shutdown, which has left many federal employees without pay for the longest stretch of time in history. These employees shared their stories with PEOPLE.

01 of 08

Matthew Konfirst, Physical Scientist; Kathrina Konfirst, Training Officer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Matt Konfirst

Mathew, 42, and Kathrina, 33, are currently supporting their two-year-old son without their dual income. They both want to maintain a positive outlook while the shutdown continues but if it starts to stretch into another month, “all bets are off.” Both love working for the EPA and are dedicated to its mission to protect human health and the environment but it’s frustrating for them to feel “helpless” because their department is not directly related to either immigration or border security. Matthew further explains: “I have no expertise or authority over either department and yet we are being affected by the shutdown and I can’t do anything to fix it. We’re in limbo, waiting for other people to fix our problems and we don’t like that feeling.”

02 of 08

Joseph Calderone, Meteorologist, NWS Employees Organization Vice-Steward; Chanhassen, Minnesota

Courtesy Joseph Calderone

Calderone, 44, is an exempt employee who currently has to work without pay. “The National Weather Service (NWS) issues severe weather warnings so our jobs can be stressful enough without the added pressure of not knowing when our next paycheck will come,” Calderone told PEOPLE. “We are on 24/7 and work in rotating shifts, which makes it even harder to find extra work on the side during this shutdown. We’ve got married couples who are now without two incomes and multiple forecasters with families with children who are ages 3 and younger. It’s very frustrating and demoralizing. We feel like pawns in a political game.”

03 of 08

Carol Weber, Supervisory Missions Support Specialist; Selfridge ANGB, Michigan

Courtesy Carol Weber

Weber, 57, a furloughed employee who works for U.S. Customs & Border Protection, Air & Marine Operations, directly oversees five mission support personnel and is responsible for all support areas for an 88 member branch. “I feel helpless because I know a lot of the employees are making zero income, while trying to support themselves or their young families,” Weber told PEOPLE. “They’re mostly pilots and almost all of them are military so they have a tremendous sense of duty and loyalty to this country. It’s really difficult to watch them suffer because they don’t deserve it. Coming from an insider’s perspective, I don’t think the general public really understands how much of a mess we’re in.”

04 of 08

Mark McDonald, Instructional Systems Specialist, Homeland Security; Brunswick, Georgia

Mark McDonaldCR: Mark McDonald
Mark McDonald

This isn’t the first time McDonald, 39, has been furloughed during his 15 years of service but this time feels different. “We have a president who doesn’t understand what the average person goes through so I feel like this is being done for all the wrong reasons and he’s playing with people’s lives,” McDonald tells PEOPLE. With a savings account that can only last him about two months, McDonald is trying to stay positive but the anxiety he feels is starting to grow. “Folks’ livelihoods should not be played with for political gain,” McDonald added. “It’s inhuman.”

05 of 08

Mallory Lorge, Administrative Assistant in Human Resources, Department of the Interior; River Falls, Wisconsin

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Mariah Delich Photography

Lorge, a 31-year-old newlywed, has had to ration the insulin she needs for her Type 1 diabetes due to the government shutdown. She can't afford the $300 copay to buy a new supply. When her blood sugar rose to dangerously high levels in early January, she ignored it. "I knew I couldn't afford an ambulance ride, I couldn't afford to be in the emergency room," Lorge tells PEOPLE. "I said I am going to bed and I hope I wake up. I was pretty scared, I was like 'I am going to die in my sleep.'”

06 of 08

Donna Kelly, Security Guard for the Smithsonian; Washington, D.C.

Donna Kelly_Courtesy of Julie Karant, 32BJ SEIU
Courtesy of Julie Karant, 32BJ SEIU

Kelly, 63, makes little more than minimum wage, which just covers the rent for her Washington, D.C. subsidized apartment and other bills. "I'm real concerned," says Kelly, a single great-grandmother going without pay. "I'm trying not to stress too much; it's not good for my [blood] pressure." In addition to worrying about how she will be able to afford medication for that condition, Kelly is anxious about the needed $50 co-pay to see a doctor or enough to pay her next insurance premium. She applied for food stamps, and while her application for unemployment benefits has been approved, she awaits her first check. "I have to work, I need to work," Kelly says. "If I am not working I can't provide for myself."

07 of 08

Julie Burr, Administrative Assistant Contract Worker, Department of Transportation; Kansas City, Missouri

Julie Barr_Courtesy of Julie Barr.jpeg
Courtesy of Julie Burr

Single mom Burr, 49, lives paycheck to paycheck, having no financial support after following the death of her children’s father from a heart attack in June. “This is really tough on us," she tells PEOPLE. "We are really treading water here. I have had many tears over this but I can't sit and dwell all day long." Worried about how she would pay her rent, Burr is working part-time at Barnes & Noble to pay February's rent and other bills. She also set up a GoFundMe, which has more than doubled her goal of $5,000. Says Burr of the donations: "It gives me faith in humanity."

08 of 08

Kristie Scarazzo, Botanist for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Ventura, California

Kristie Scarazzo and her daughter_Courtesy of Kristie Scarazzo
Courtesy of Kristie Scarazzo

Scarazzo, a 45-year-old divorced single mom of a 4-year-old, drained her savings last September to move to Ventura for her dream job. "I thought I was making a wise choice working for the federal government," she says, "one that is very secure." Now Scarazzo is "trying not to freak out" as she grapples with going weeks without pay. "It's really difficult," she tells PEOPLE. "I do not know how I am going to pay the rest of my bills to get through the month. It's ugly and unfortunate."

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