During the nation's longest federal shutdown, Joel Rodriguez, a furloughed auditor at NASA, borrowed money from his parents and took out a personal loan to pay bills. He drove for Uber, Lyft, Postmates and Instacart, earning $2,000 during the 35-day stretch.
“That’s what I did to survive,” said Rodriguez, who is married with two small children.
He was largely able to keep up with his obligations. His only hiccup was sending in his February mortgage payment and car payment seven days late.
Rodriguez’s financial gymnastics were common among federal workers during the shutdown, according to a new survey of 350 federal employees, contractors and their spouses provided exclusively to USA TODAY by Prudential Financial. The survey underscored how vital even one to two missed paychecks are for many Americans, especially as federal workers brace for the possibility of another shutdown this week.
“The partial government shutdown really put a spotlight on the fact that most Americans can’t weather even a brief disruption in their income,” said Jamie Kalamarides, president of group insurance at Prudential Financial. “It’s a wake-up call to the general population.”
Food banks, skipping health expenses
During the shutdown, federal workers went to great lengths to deal with their cash flow shortfall. Almost a quarter reduced or eliminated spending on health or medical expenses for themselves or their family. One in four visited a food bank.
Forty-two percent took on new debt to pay for day-to-day expenses and bills. Two in five turned to family or friends, while one in five borrowed from a bank or credit union.
Rodriguez borrowed $2,000 from his parents and took out a $3,000 loan from his credit union. He has since paid both back with his first two retroactive paychecks.
“I only had the loan open a week,” he said.
At Navy Federal Credit Union, nearly 20,000 of its members signed up to get zero-percent loans based on their most recent direct deposit, according to a company spokesman.
Just over a quarter of federal workers surveyed tapped their retirement accounts – either taking a loan or outright distribution. One in 10 borrowed from an alternative lender, while 9 percent turned to crowdfunding.
GoFundMe saw about 4,000 campaigns that raised nearly $2 million to support those affected by the shutdown, a company spokeswoman said.
Despite their efforts, almost half of federal workers fell behind on bills. More than a quarter missed a mortgage or rent payment; 13 percent fell behind on student loans; and 10 percent skipped a tuition payment, Prudential found.
Of those who had emergency savings, 62 percent said they depleted all or most of those rainy-day funds. Almost a third spent half of it.
“The unfortunate thing is the people who are recovering from the shutdown are in a very delicate place right now. They’re just at the point of getting back on their feet,” said Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “With another deadline coming up, the best things people can do is start reviewing their options if we do go into another shutdown.”
Preparing for the next one
As lawmakers try to work out a border security deal by Friday to avert another shutdown, federal workers are re-committing to saving to help get through the next unexpected event. Just over half plan to add more money to their savings, while one in 10 who don’t have any emergency fund plan to start one.
McClary said that many of the banks and credit unions he’s talked to also plan to offer similar support as last time if the government shuts down again, including low to no-interest short-term loans.
Rodriguez is also preparing. “I do Lyft and Uber in the early mornings and at night to prepare for another shutdown,” he said. “I told my parents to take the money I owed them because I may need it later.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: In government shutdown aftermath, federal workers still hurting, survey finds