Not long ago, I got my dream job with a small government contracting company. Now, because of the partial government shutdown, I have no job.
In the summer of 2018, my family returned to the Washington, D.C., area after four years abroad. My husband is a diplomat — a foreign service officer at the Department of State — and was assigned to Malaysia, and later to Pakistan. Our two kids and I followed him to Kuala Lumpur, but were not allowed to join him in Islamabad because of safety considerations. I stayed in Malaysia for that year, raising our children so my husband could support efforts to keep the United States and our soldiers abroad safe from terrorism.
Our family reunited back in America, where my husband’s next assignment would be. We planned to get settled before I would think about finding employment in this extremely expensive place to live.
However, I didn’t get the chance to get settled. We were still living in a hotel when I was contacted by a small government contracting company about a promising opportunity, a job in my field of instructional design, and tailored to my experiences over the last 12 years. I would be creating e-Learning and apps for diplomats and others going to serve our country overseas. This was big. I had promised myself when I came back to Washington that I would hold out for a job that mattered, where I could be creative and make a difference. This was that job. I would be working with my former neighbors and my husband’s colleagues in the State Department, finding solutions to help reach and train employees all over the world.
Read more commentary:
Shutdown: Empathy won’t move Trump. It’ll take pain, tragedy and Republican desertions.
9 things you should know before Trump starts spewing lies in Tuesday address to the nation
Trump’s ‘border security’ shutdown: Cut off cash to people and agencies that protect us
I took the job, began working in September, and I loved it. I quickly became involved in a number of exciting projects, and threw myself into the work. My husband and I learned how to juggle our schedules and our children’s schedules so we could both succeed in the workplace. It isn’t always easy, but it has allowed me to carve out my place and to keep producing work that I am proud of. Then came the shutdown.
Shut out by the shutdown
I worked late on the Friday before Christmas, knowing the partial shutdown might come to pass. I wanted to make sure that when we came back, my colleagues and I could hit the ground running to meet our deadlines. The shutdown went into effect and my husband worked the week of Christmas as an “essential” employee. As a government contractor, I had to stay home and decided to make it feel like as much like a vacation as possible. We enjoyed the holiday, opening presents and spending the time together that we could, and thought all would be well once the new year started.
But all is not well. On Sunday, Jan.6, my company sent out a notice informing all the employees on my e-Learning team that we are no longer employed. They could no longer afford to pay our benefits without having hours to bill. There is the hope that the company can rehire us someday, but that is by no means guaranteed. And while my husband can expect back pay whenever the government reopens, as a contractor I won’t be getting any back pay.
The next day I stayed home, unemployed, while my husband was back at State Department headquarters — working without any assurance of receiving a paycheck next week. Meanwhile, the mortgage is still due, and bills need to be paid. Our daughter just came back from the orthodontist with braces, which are expensive. It will not be easy for us during this time of uncertainty, although we are lucky to have some savings.
Cash-strapped Americans are hurting
Still, the Washington, D.C. area, is one of the most expensive regions in the country to live. I worry about myself, but also those less fortunate. Many of the people who worked alongside me are also suffering. Many of those who supported me and others at my workplace, including cafeteria and janitorial workers, are also contractors and out of work. The woman who proudly kept our work spaces clean with her homemade organic cleansing agents has been out of work for three weeks and counting. She does not having savings and she is not alone. Most people — whether in the private or government sector or working as a contractor — have less than $1,000 in savings and are living paycheck to paycheck.
I love my country. My husband and I love serving the United States, but we will be unable to keep doing it without a paycheck. I understand the importance of the ongoing debates about the government’s budget priorities and how (or whether) to pay for them. But holding the pay of federal employees and contractors hostage is not a helpful way to conduct the business of our government.
Ultimately, it is harmful — not only to the hundreds of thousands of government workers affected, but to government contractors and the many, many more who depend on the smooth running of our institutions. We need to end this now and we need to make changes to protect federal and contract workers from the partisan gridlock.
Sunny Blaylock lives in Arlington, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @MalaysiaSunny.