Federal Budget Crisis Hits Home

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats are once again negotiating about how to fund the federal government. I for one am worried, not just about this year but the next one as well.

As the weekend drew to a close -- with at least a partial shutdown of the U.S. government on April 8 still looming -- my frustration mounted. Each federal fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Although we're more than halfway through this one, agencies are operating courtesy of a series of stopgap funding measures resembling pop beads. And the politicians we elected are still just talking.

I'm fidgety on three fronts. My family's most immediate concern is what will happen to my husband's income during a partial shutdown. He has around six years' seniority with a contractor that supports a federal agency in Northern Virginia. It supposedly costs the taxpayers less to have him do what he does than it would to pay a federal employee to do the same thing. If there's a partial shutdown that keeps non-essential feds from working, he won't be allowed to work either.

The deal brokering over budgets for future years makes me antsy as well. In October 2004, I traded six-figure compensation as a fed employee for an early, reduced retirement due to declining health. Because I was under the more recent retirement plan, my gross monthly benefits were frozen until age 62. Due to the current freeze on cost-of-living increases for federal workers and retirees, at 63, I haven't had any increase in more than six years. Rising health insurance premiums have made my net around $200 a month less than at retirement.

As the talks about the 2012 budget continue, I wonder if I made a mistake by putting off signing up for Social Security the minute I turned 62. I planned to hold out for a higher monthly benefit. So far, Republicans' plans for the 2012 fiscal year include cuts exceeding $4 trillion over 10 years. The whole idea is to get federal spending back to 2008 levels. One provision would shift increased costs to Medicare recipients. However, information available gives me no idea of how this might affect me.

Since becoming a retired fed worker, I have held a number of part-time jobs. My last ended in September of 2009. As a patient with Crohn's disease who's on immunosuppressive drugs for life, I was forced by the threat of exposure to swine flu to resign from my job in a building with a lot of visits by the public. I haven't found another one.

The price tag on my medications reads several thousand dollars every month. Last year, I underwent knee surgery and physical therapy costing thousands in co-pays. I now need a knee replacement. My husband also has a health condition he struggles to manage and that requires expensive meds. Virtually all personal leave he accumulates goes for his own treatment or to take me to mine.

We survive without my having a job only because we are a very frugal couple. We each drive a 9-year-old Toyota Camry. We have no credit card debt. Aside from funding health issues, our major expense is feeding the neighborhood feral cats we've rescued over the last several years. Beyond gas, groceries and medications, if it isn't on sale, we don't buy it.

How will we meet our expenses if there's a federal shutdown on Friday? Or if future cuts cause the elimination of my husband's job? Am I going to get a cost-of-living increase in my pension before my health insurance premiums exceed the net due me every month? I'm not looking for a tropical cruise in retirement, after all. For me, it's all about peace of mind.

View Comments