Kristie Scarazzo, a 45-year-old botanist and single mom of a 4-year-old, can't pay her monthly bills with the $450 weekly unemployment she's been offered

By Diane Herbst
January 18, 2019 05:10 PM
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Kristie Scarazzo and her daughter_Courtesy of Kristie Scarazzo
Credit: Courtesy of Kristie Scarazzo

Kristie Scarazzo is mid-sentence when she begins to cry.

She is describing how, as a historic shutdown of the federal government entered its 27th day on Thursday, her boss at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told her that regulations forbid her from taking a back-up job she’d landed with a private environmental firm to make ends meet.

It would be a conflict of interest, she says she was told.

“I don’t know what I am going to do,” she says, in tears. “I don’t even have my wedding ring to sell.”

Scarazzo, a 45-year-old botanist and single mom of a 4-year-old daughter, can’t pay her monthly bills with the $450 weekly unemployment she’s been offered — less than half the income from her federal job. Her recent divorce and a September move to Ventura, California, for her government job drained her savings. (Though the position was a dream, it came with a pay cut of $14,000.)

Scarazzo, like many Americans, lives paycheck to paycheck. She’s yet to receive her first unemployment payment. The temp job she’d planned on would have enabled her to cover her monthly condo rent, food, student loans, child care and other expenses.

“My anxiety is through the roof,” she tells PEOPLE. “I have chewed off all my fingernails, I am really starting to panic. What is everyone doing? Here I am, all hustle, and now I can’t even interview for [the job].”

Scarazzo is one of some 800,000 federal workers who aren’t being paid during the shutdown. And they are struggling.

A 31-year-old diabetic federal employee in Wisconsin has rationed her insulin to make it last longer, because she can’t afford more.

In Washington, D.C., a contract security guard at the Smithsonian turned to food stamps.

Across the country, FBI field offices are opening food banks for agents and staff who can’t afford things to eat.

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Earlier this month, President Donald Trump, whose insistence for funding for a proposed southern border wall led to the government closing, said it could last for months — “even years.” Congressional Democrats have urged him to reopen the government while they continue to debate border security, but they have dismissed his call for a wall as immoral and ineffective.

He has forcefully argued the opposite: that it is needed to stave off an alleged “crisis” of drugs, violence and human trafficking coming from Mexico.

But Scarazzo doesn’t concern herself with the politics. She worries about money.

She has thought of possibly substitute teaching or working retail for Patagonia, but those jobs won’t cover her bills. She’s shocked that she can’t work in a field with her expertise in environmental regulations, one that would literally pay the rent.

“I thought I was making a wise choice, working for the federal government,” she told PEOPLE in early January. “one that is very secure.”

She said then: “I believe in being a public servant, and I love what I do and I took a slightly lower salary to be in this position — and, lo and behold, we are the ones who are suffering due to this situation. I just want to go back to work.”