Shutdown stories: How congressional quarreling is affecting us

Tim Skillern

Bank accounts are short a couple hundred bucks. Federal employees fret about not heading to work. Vacations are delayed, canceled or ruined. Basic everyday services disappear.

Those are some of the effects Americans saw Tuesday morning after the U.S. government staggered to a stop at midnight, and millions, including 800,000 furloughed federal workers, began to cope with the hiccups — some irritating but small and others large and worrisome.

As the shutdown starts, Yahoo News is cataloging anecdotes Americans are sharing with us. Below are excerpts from some first-person accounts we received Tuesday. If you’re directly and concretely affected by the shutdown, we’re interested in your story. Learn how to contribute.

Savings accounts unfortunately replace income in a shutdown

Vonda J. Sines, 65, of Herndon, Va., retired in 2004 from a federal government job and thought the shutdowns of 1995 and ‘96 long past. Now, with Congress’ shuttering of the government less than 24 hours old, she and her husband notice an immediate hit: The loss of his income from his federal contractor job means a $174.33 drop from their budget each day the shutdown persists. It’s also put a scare into her as she enters Social Security. Sines writes:

Covered by the newer federal retirement system, I'm eligible for Social Security and signed up for Medicare Parts A and B in 2012. I had decided to apply in October for Social Security payments starting Jan. 1, 2014.

Because I had questions about my benefits, I opted not to apply online, but to schedule an interview. Then I read that a shutdown could mean no processing of Social Security applications. Even imagining the potential backlog triggered a headache.

I scrambled to get an appointment. After 42 minutes on hold, I snagged a telephone appointment at 1:45 p.m. on Sept. 30 — just under the wire. I had to cut an important doctor's appointment short to get home in time for the call. When the phone hadn't rung 10 minutes after the scheduled time, I felt nauseated from stress. It finally did. Had I been unable to sign up before the shutdown, receiving benefits of around $2,000 a month could have been delayed.

Since we were already on a bare-bones budget, we cannot tighten it. Savings must replace lost income. The only relief in sight is what we can create ourselves. However, I have already fired one salvo of emails to all our congressmen to express my disgust over their inability to keep the government afloat.

Read more of Sines’ story.

Shutdown plays politics with national parks

D.C. Douglass and his wife scrimped pennies, he says, for three years to pay for their twice-a-decade trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where they vacation with his sisters and their families from Texas and Florida. But the government shutdown has closed 401 national parks, including the Smokies. Park roads and service facilities are unavailable, and visitors are being asked to leave immediately, according to Renting two cabins for a week set his group back $6,000. Douglass writes:

I understand this is not a situation that is going to elicit much sympathy from government employees who are going to go without paychecks or Americans who are waiting for FHA mortgage approvals. But this ridiculous partisan spat is negatively affecting millions of Americans, and our illustrious Congress does not seem to care a bit. And it is costing me money.

I am writing this while sitting on the deck of a mountainside cabin in Wears Valley, Tenn., just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. My family comes from around the country to congregate here in the autumn every five years. My wife and I make the 10-hour drive from the suburbs of Detroit to hike, camp and enjoy the Smokies' magnificent fall color. We made our reservations nearly a year in advance. We saved our pennies for nearly three years.

Again, the cost is really not the object. It is the experience we relish, as I am now approaching 60, and the strenuous uphill hike to the lodge is getting more difficult with each passing year. But I still look forward to making the trip. Perhaps we will not make it this year after all, thanks to our uncompromising legislators. Not that they care.

Let me also say that I am not one of the 1 percent. I am not even close to it. This is a trip we save for all year, often bypassing other pleasures to be certain we the funds are available. I do not expect anyone to feel sorry for us.

Read more of Douglass’ story.

Everyday tasks are that much harder

In San Diego, Robert Clark Young has cared for five years for his infirm father, who needs government-issued IDs for doctor visits, emergency-room care and access to handicapped services. Young mailed off the necessary paperwork for a federal passport card, but with the government shutdown and a local office unfunded and unsupported, there’s no one to process the application. Young writes:

How long will the government be closed for business? Who can say? But I know one thing: Giving my father the daily care that he needs could be complicated if he lacks legal identification.

My father's HMO requires a valid photo ID before providing him with routine medical care. His catheter is changed once a month, for instance, and the scheduling puts him in different facilities with different nurses. What if he has no ID at the time of his appointment?

Over the past five years, my dad has been in the emergency room 12 times. He's always been asked for a photo ID.

Technically, we can't even use a handicapped parking space without my father being able to prove that he's the person the placard is assigned to.

Shutting the government down affects millions of Americans in ways large and small. I hope the Republicans in Congress will compromise on this matter, before the inconvenience to Americans becomes too great.

Meanwhile, we'll be trying to get my dad an ID card issued by the state of California. The Democrats are in charge here, and the state is open for business.

Read more of Young’s story.

Government calls it a furlough; family calls it a major problem

Kim Jacobs Walker’s husband, Mark, works in an administrative position for the federal government in Austin, Texas, and as of Monday, he’s furloughed. Walker says a less obvious result of the government shutdown is that federal employees will get fed up and look for work elsewhere.

He works for the federal government and has for more than six years, and for now, he's on vacation without pay.

It isn't like those snow days we had in school as kids. Mark will likely spend the day worrying about how we're going to pay the bills this month, and how long this will last. I have an eBay business, so I told him he can help me with some listings while he's off. Maybe we can generate a little extra money that way.

The biggest frustration with this situation, aside from the fact that we don't know when it will end, is that a lot of avenues to coping with it are blocked. Mark can't apply for unemployment unless it lasts for more than a week. He can't get a temporary job lasting more than a day, because Congress could miraculously reach an agreement at any moment, and he would be called back to work. We're in limbo.

I'm encouraging him to spend his free time applying for jobs outside the federal government. The economy here in Austin has remained stronger than most. There are still jobs to be had, though I suspect that this week, there will be a veritable flood of new applicants.

Read more of Walker’s story.

State picks up funding slack, but uncertainty remains

Darcy Chappel landed a job two weeks ago at the Bureau of Disability Adjudication, which relies on funds from the Social Security Administration. When the clock struck midnight on the shutdown, that money dried up, but the state of Nevada stepped in to keep her office in Reno open. Chappel writes:

I am lucky that if I am required to take unpaid leave from my job, I have my working spouse to fall back on. But it will still be a major hardship if I have to take a cut in pay. I have two teenage boys at home who rely on my paycheck for their educational expenses, extracurricular activities and vivacious appetites.

I'm sure that the congressional members who failed to reach an agreement to fund federal agencies Monday night could care less about my plight. They are focused on undermining the Affordable Care Act, and delaying the enforcement of the mandate that requires all Americans to obtain health insurance.

While I may not personally agree with Obamacare, I think that House Republicans are being irresponsible by playing around with others' livelihoods.

They are taking a stand, but it is at their constituents’ expense. After all, they are still getting a paycheck as "non-essential" government agencies are being shut down.

They won't feel the trickle-down effect of their actions, and they probably aren't worried about the impact of their actions on this 40-year-old mom of three.

They probably don't realize that if Nevada's Bureau of Disability Adjudication has to shut down for even a day, that severely ill people who have applied for disability will have to wait even longer for benefits.

It would be interesting to see if they would be so quick to take a stand if it directly affected their pocketbooks or health.

Read more of Chappel’s story.

My husband won't get paid, but he’ll still work

Kimberly Morgan’s husband works two jobs — one with the U.S. Naval Reserves and another as a civilian for Central Command in Tampa, Fla. — but will not work this weekend in the reserves because of the shutdown. She writes:

My husband received word on Tuesday that he isn't furloughed from his civilian job, but because of the government shutdown, he doesn't leave for the reserves, so we miss out on a couple hundred dollars for the lost drill pay.

This is pretty huge; we're a family of five, and while the economy in Tampa is improving somewhat, it's still not the cheapest place to live. We're both in our early 40s, and while we're still young enough to make up the lost ground, I'd rather it never came to this.

Because his civilian position is considered "essential," he's still paid, and he'll still be sitting his post every day, and giving 100 percent of his time and effort. But his mission is still affected by government furloughs earlier this summer, and there's no overtime and other restrictions.

If he had been furloughed and the government couldn't pony up with his back pay, we'd simply be surviving on whatever savings we have, because the government considers his job so vital and important, my husband would've worked a full 8-hour day, every day, without pay, for however long it takes.

Read more of Morgan’s story.

More excerpts from readers' stories

On furlough indefinitely and worried: If the shutdown continues, I don't know what I will do. Trying to find another job is not an option because (1) Missouri has a very poor economy and jobs are leaving the state, (2) I'm an age most companies do not want to hire and (3) I have almost 20 years invested with the government and am too old to start over at the bottom again.

— Patricia Murray, 55, is a single mother from Missouri who has been furloughed from her job at the Social Security Administration.

This furloughed federal employee will work for food: This first day I lose my federal pay, I also lose the ability to make a payment on those back-owed federal taxes.

The second day that I lose my federal pay, I also lose the ability to make a payment on my federal student loans.

The third day I am furloughed, I lose the ability to make a car payment.

The fourth day, I lose the ability to make a full payment on the loan that covered my home repairs.

Six more days of furlough, and I will lose the ability to make my mortgage payment. By then I envision that I am so far behind that owning a car and house no longer matter. I am scrambling to sell things furniture, books, records, cookies and more.

I don't have a spouse to fall back on, and my family and friends all have their own struggles. My father is a retired Vietnam veteran and one of my sisters who works for the Department of Defense in a non-military post was also furloughed.

— Theresa N., 55, works for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, but she was furloughed and isn't being paid about $220 a day during the shutdown.

In government shutdown, no employment means no home: I have been working as a Department of Defense employee for more than a year now after serving four years in the Marines.

I also recently submitted an offer on some property using my VA home loan. After saving for years on a tight military budget, our offer was accepted last week on the condition that we close by Oct. 31 due to the seller's living situation. Everything was going good until the government shutdown, and I realized that at 28, while I could hold out financially during the standoff, there is no way to verify my employment.

Technically, I don't have employment right now and that is a cause for concern for my lender (and for me, of course). If I do not get back to work soon and get my employment verified, my inspection and appraisal will fall past their deadlines, and my home will fall out of escrow, along with my $2,000 deposit and time and effort.

— Erik Neyman lives in Santa Maria, Calif.

Not just government employees affected: I am 26 and a soon-to-be mother. I recently and unexpectedly lost my job when I was two months pregnant. I am now living on little to zero income but programs like WIC have made a big difference in relieving some of my financial burden.

On Tuesday, the government halted funding to the Women, Infants and Children program that provides financial and nutritional support.

I know this problem may seem minor compared to those losing income from days not working, but it is also affecting those who have none to begin with. People are upset they have to use their savings money; how about people like me who have no savings? I know, as Americans in different classes, we all suffer different financial hardships, and I feel badly for all who are affected by what is happening.

I just wanted to make a point that something like this affects everyone and not just one group of people. I hope and pray the issue will be solved quickly so we can all get back to making the best of what we had, whether it is a government job or government-funded programs.

— Ashley Canak

Shutdown arrives amid shakeup in life: For the last 13 years, I raised my daughter alone and took care of my elderly mother and handicapped brother who both lived in separate towns here in Maine. I worked full-time at whatever I could get to accommodate an erratic schedule based on the needs of my family. I scrimped and scraped to get by, all the while trying to get back into a government position. Finally, five years ago, after 20 years of being away, I was reinstated into a civilian job.

A few weeks ago I got a promotion, which I am supposed to start next Monday. I have been carefully planning to save as much as possible from the pay raise. I haven't been able to have any savings in the past. I haven't even had a few dollars a payday to have a retirement fund. At 61, I was looking forward to breathing easy.

When furlough became imminent, I immediately paid my real estate taxes. I wasn't going to risk dipping into that savings and not having the money to pay them next month. Now I have some of the funds needed to pay for my car and house insurance, which comes due in December. That's all I have in savings and I don't want to touch it if I can help it.

— Jane Fanning Brown writes that she filed for unemployment this week and is thinking of applying to a temp agency to make ends meet during the shutdown.

A new father out of work: On Monday, I was furloughed from my dream job by the government. It has been a long and testing three weeks as a new parent with these factors one after another.

I have loved every minute of the last five years as a civil servant, and have been threatened by furlough three times in two years. Now, I'm the sole provider of our family, after I decided my wife should stay home and raise our child; our family budget is in severe danger.

If this shutdown lasts more than a few days, we will have to cut into savings we have worked very hard to accumulate since finding out we were pregnant. I love my job, and all my coworkers do too. Most of us have families and are regular middle-class folks, regular folks now told we can't work at what we love, can't earn a paycheck to support our families and are not important enough to cause our so-called leadership to behave with our families in mind.

— Sean Brophy lives in Albuquerque, N.M., with his wife and infant son, born Sept. 8.