MEMBERS ONLY: Because of the Trump Shutdown, We May Not Be Able to Pay Our Bills

This is week two of Donald Trump’s stupid partial government shutdown and my wife is still working. For free. Yeah, she’s one of the exempt employees which means that she has keep working no matter how long this goes on. Without pay. And since she’s the primary breadwinner, that’s going to be a problem soon. We shouldn’t have to live like this.

Here’s where the whole thing stands:

Trump is convinced the shutdown is good for him and his ratings. He also thinks that the shutdown will stop the Democrats from kicking off a slew of investigations into every facet of his corrupt regime. Neither of these things are true but it’s going to take weeks for him to figure that out and in the meantime, Trump will gleefully keep the government closed because it makes his base happy (at least until it starts to affect them personally).

Democrats just won a massive victory and they were given power by the people explicitly to rein Trump in. At the top of that list is blocking his white nationalist policies like the wall. There is literally no chance they are going to give him the funding for it and with the newly expanded progressive caucus, Pelosi will have all the firepower she needs to control the House Democrats on this topic. Not that she needs it because Pelosi is no Paul Ryan.

Republicans won’t trade anything valuable for the wall because, as Vox points out, they know the wall is stupid. Would you give up something valuable to the opposing team for a pointless vanity project that will never actually happen? Of course not.

But at the same time, Republicans are afraid of Trump’s base so they won’t do anything but sit there and play along with Trump. This will last until Wall Street and the corporations that own the GOP get tired of losing hundreds of millions a day because of the shutdown and demand Republican make the bleeding stop. That will also take weeks.

While this is playing out, hundreds of thousands of government workers like my wife will not be getting paid. I can only speak for ourselves but we are stressing out and we were as prepared as we could be.

When Republicans took over the House in 2010, I told my wife that maybe we should stockpile some extra food in case of a shutdown. When Trump was elected, I told my wife we had to stockpile enough food to last an entire month. And that’s exactly what we did over the next two years. I volunteer at a food bank once a month and we slowly built up a reserve of dried and canned goods we can live off of if we have to. Rice and beans, emergency just-add-water meals, cans of tuna, pasta, more rice and beans, and a chest freezer filled with whatever meat was on sale. The only thing we’ll have to buy is stuff like milk, eggs, bread and fresh fruit and vegetables and at Aldi’s, we can get that for under $20. $10 if we’re being careful.

We shouldn’t have to live like this.

Mostly, we live paycheck to paycheck. We still have students loans to pay off and credit card debt from the good ol’ days when we were young and stupid. Sure, we paid off over $30,000 of credit card debt and even more in school loans but we still owe enough that we can’t build up any savings just yet. 

And we got lucky with the timing for this shutdown. It fell at the end of the month and Debbie got her last paycheck in time to pay rent and the rest of January’s bills. The problem comes when February’s bills start coming due. Debbie has been calling our various creditors. Some have been quite understanding and have put our payments on hold for a month. Some even offered longer if we need it. But others, like T-Mobile and Citibank have flat out refused while Chase is still making a decision about what to do.

We can reduce the school loans and credit cards to their minimum payments for now but we still have to pay for Jordan’s after school program which he cannot skip due to his autism. Fortunately, Anastasia’s after school is a flat fee for the year we paid back in August so we don’t have to worry about that. On the other hand, we’re supposed to put down a deposit in February for Jordan’s therapeutic recreation summer camp and it fills up quickly. It’s the only one in the city we can afford and if he doesn’t get in, we have zero other options for him. We’re hoping they’ll hold a spot for him anyway but we don’t know and that’s causing us a lot of anxiety.

We shouldn’t have to live like this.

Then there’s the issue of what happens if one of us gets sick. We no longer have insurance. CVS went ahead and refilled all of our prescriptions before the shutdown, some of them well before they were due. We didn’t even know until we checked about getting it done. Say what you will about the company but that kind of customer service is priceless. If I was forced to go a month without my blood pressure medication or my wife had been forced to skip the meds for her now-missing thyroid, it would have been bad. 

But Debbie had surgery less than a month ago. What if she has a complication? What if one of the kids get hurt? How do we pay for it? Will we be forced into bankruptcy because our insurance is on hold? 

We shouldn’t have to live like this.

We are not unemployed or underemployed. We are not making below a living wage. As someone who, as a child, has eaten government cheese and lived on cabbage soup for a week because we couldn’t afford anything else, I’m aware of what it means to live on that razor’s edge. So does Debbie. But we haven’t been there in a very long time and finding ourselves coming close to it is insane. 

Debbie and I no longer live outside of our means despite her family demanding that we buy a house and go into even more debt because that’s just what we’re supposed to do. If it wasn’t for the debt we had accrued many years ago, we would be doing great, financially speaking. And yet, we’re borrowing money for next month’s rent just in case. Debbie is panicking because she doesn’t know if we’ll be able to pay our bills on time if the shutdown lasts into February. If we fall behind and go into collections, that impacts our credit rating and that, in turn, can cost her her security clearance which would cost her her job. We’re staring down a death spiral for our family all because of Donald fucking Trump.

We shouldn’t have to live like this.

And we’re lucky. We were relatively prepared and have family willing to help us out. Between our two fathers, Debbie and I will have rent for next month if it should come to that. I make enough to probably squeeze out the minimum on most of our remaining bills. As perverse as it sounds, the fact that Debbie is working is a good thing because that means she has to be paid when the shutdown ends. There’s no guarantee Trump and the Republicans will pay the workers who were furloughed this time. Trump could withhold the pay out of sheer spite if he’s made to look like a fool and Republicans are completely spineless before his wrath. He can’t do that to people who worked through the shutdown.

There are close to one million people not being paid and the number increases this week as the EPA and Smithsonian network shuts down. How many of them were as prepared as us? How many of them have a support system as strong as ours? Not nearly as many as we’d like to hope. How many of them will have a medical emergency in the following weeks and be stuck with a massive hospital bill their insurance should have covered? How many will have their credit damaged by collection agencies? How many will have unsympathetic landlords next month if this drags on into February while “our” president demonizes us on Twitter and Republicans dismiss our struggles and anxiety?

None of us should have to live like this.