US shutdown: ‘It’s scary, I don’t know how long we’ll last’

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Despite no guarantee of pay, thousands of US government workers are still required to work

As America’s longest-ever government shutdown continues, federal workers face an uncertain financial future.

About 800,000 US federal staff are at home or working without pay during the political deadlock over funding for Mr Trump’s proposed border wall.

While some workers are relying on yard sales, food banks and loans to make ends meet, others have turned to crowdfunding – raising money through online donations.

More than 1,500 crowdfunding campaigns have been set up on GoFundMe since the shutdown began, a company spokesperson told CNN, raising more than $300,000 (£232,000).

So who are the people tapping into this online goodwill?

‘It’s scary, I don’t know how long we’ll last’

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Mechelle Belle

Mechelle, 26, was working two jobs before she become a security officer at Atlanta Airport last summer.

With no family nearby, Mechelle has become the sole provider for her mother, a brain tumour survivor whose epilepsy and glaucoma has left her unable to work.

“I thought that having a government job would provide me better opportunities and more security,” says Mechelle.

“It ended up being the total opposite.”

Despite the prospect of no pay, Mechelle is still required to work. So are all 57,000 employees of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

But with no savings, the commute to work is eating into the little money she has to pay for bills and for the medication that’s keeping her mother in good health. Last week, she applied for food stamps, a food-purchasing assistance program run by the US government.

“It’s scary, I don’t know how long we’ll last and I don’t know how bad it’ll get before it’ll get better,” says Mechelle.

But there has been some relief. In under a week, her crowdfunding page has raised more than $500.

“I feel very grateful,” she says.

“It makes me feel hopeful that people are on our side.”

She hopes that, along with raising money, her campaign will raise awareness of how the shutdown is affecting government workers more widely.

“A lot of us are in limbo and it seems like it’s just for a useless reason,” says Mechelle.

“I’m sure there are better ways of getting what they need without hurting so many families.”

‘I don’t know how to plan anymore’

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This is the second government shutdown Anna Cory has faced, but it’s the first to hit her so hard.

As a contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Anna helps to update and organise the agency’s library of scientific research, which is used to inform environmental regulations.

She and her fiancé intended to marry and buy a house this year, but with no paycheck coming in, everything has been put on hold.

“I don’t know how to plan anymore,” says Anna, who lives in North Carolina.

“It makes for very sad moments.”

She’s raised nearly $6,000 through crowdfunding donations. Many donors have asked that their funds to go towards her wedding.

“It’s been a major boost for me personally,” says Anna.

Crowdfunding has also helped her to “recognise the bigger picture” – that donating to campaigns has become “something constructive for other people to do as well when they feel powerless.”

Looking ahead, Anna says she now has enough money to take care of bills in the short term, though she’s begun applying for work elsewhere.

“I do feel torn, if this was a permanent position I would stick it out,” says Anna.

“It’s a very positive environment. It’s supportive, the people are quite passionate and dedicated about what they do, and many of them choose to be there in public service instead of going to the private sector where they could possibly earn more.”

“To leave because of economic circumstances is quite a difficult decision.”

‘This isn’t a way to live’

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Angela Kelley

Wisconsin native Angela Kelley admits she “hasn’t been sleeping well” because of the shutdown.

A single parent, she has sole custody of her three-year-old granddaughter. Since last year she’s worked as an administrator at the Department of Land Management to provide for them both.

Angela has started work as an Uber driver to make ends meet, but a knee injury limits the amount of hours she can be behind the wheel.

She started crowdfunding after hearing about similar campaigns on the news, though was hesitant at first.

“It’s very humbling to ask for help, especially from strangers, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do when you have a family to support.”

In two weeks she’s had more than $1,000 in donations towards her rent and bills.

“It’s heart-warming that there are people out there who care about myself and my granddaughter enough to help us out,” says Angela, who lives in Milkwaukee.

Money is still a worry, however.

“I can’t wait this out much longer,” she says.

“This isn’t a way to live.”

Angela says she may move jobs if the shutdown continues for much longer, but at 51 she is concerned about losing her retirement and healthcare benefits.

Something else weighs on her mind, too:

“If I do decide to leave, I think about what impact that will have on my co-workers when they come back.”

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