Government shutdown impacting federal workers in Summit County
Stephanie Graham has recently been spending her days with her 3-year-old daughter when she’s not in preschool or walking dogs to make a little extra cash.
If it were up to Graham, who lives in Summit Park, she would instead be doing her job as a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But, she has not been able to work or even sign in to her email account since Dec. 21 because of the partial federal government shutdown.
Graham, along with about 80 percent of her colleagues, is among the thousands of furloughed federal employees unable to work.
“It’s not like we are working for the federal government to make a lot of money,” she said. “Most people do it because they are passionate about the job. We are never going to make beaucoup bucks. We are not in it for that. But, we do depend on our paychecks. This is just my experience, though. I am not speaking for my agency.”
There are an estimated 220 federal employees living in Summit County, with most of them occupying jobs related to the military, according to Jeff Jones, Summit County’s economic development director. He said the Bureau of Economic Analysis for the county estimates that 165 of those employees work for the military.
Some of the other federal workers are postal employees, U.S. Forest Service employees and those who work for other land management groups.
The Christian Center of Park City recently reminded its followers on Facebook that furloughed government workers can utilize its services and programs. The Christian Center offers food assistance and has an Emergency Assistance Department. The department can help with bills, including mortgage payments.
“We just wanted to make sure that the federal employees knew that we are available and we certainly encourage them to take advantage of this resource in their time of need,” said Pete Stoughton, director of programs.
Stoughton said he is unsure if any federal workers have utilized the Christian Center services because the processes are discrete. He said income checks are not required to allow anonymity.
The government shutdown is affecting an estimated 800,000 furloughed government workers across the nation, many of whom, like Graham, are not currently collecting pay. The last paycheck Graham received was a few weeks ago.
Furloughed and federal employees can apply for unemployment benefits through the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Nate McDonald, communication director, said a higher than normal amount of federal employees have filed claims since the shutdown went into effect. He indicated the number of workers furloughed from the Internal Revenue Service office located in Ogden could be partially to blame.
The Department of Workforce Services had processed approximately 2,775 unemployment claims from federal workers statewide as of Monday morning, said Bethany Hyatt, a public spokeswoman for the agency.
“Wintertime is typically our peak season for unemployment claims because of the weather and seasonal workers who may be affected by it,” she said. “So we are already experiencing those expected claims, but we are seeing an increase because of the federal shutdown that is unexpected.”
Federal employees are either classified as essential or non-essential workers, Hyatt said. Essential workers are those that are required to continue working through the shutdown. They are still earning pay so they are ineligible for unemployment benefits, but they are not receiving paychecks. Non-essential workers are mostly furloughed and are not earning money during their time off. They are eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
Graham, a non-essential employee, filed paperwork last week in the hopes of becoming eligible for help through the Department of Workforce Services. She said her husband, who is not a government employee, is still working full-time to support their family.
Graham could find another job. But, she said it would be difficult because she’s unsure when she may go back to work, which is why she has started offering to walk dogs.
“I’m in a spot where I don’t want to look for my next career move,” she said. “But, if this goes on for another two weeks, I am going to get really nervous.”
This is the first time Graham has been significantly affected by a government shutdown, she said. She said she is becoming increasingly concerned about how this will affect her health care benefits because she is pregnant.
“It’s a little confusing,” she said. “All I’ve been told is that no matter what we will get charged like we typically would. If this lasts two pay periods, we will get a bill in the mail. But, after two pay periods, I don’t know if we will keep our health coverage. That’s a big worry.”
Graham said she will soon have to sit down with her husband and decide what her next steps will be if the government shutdown continues.
“I am pregnant so I’m kind of in a weird situation,” she said. “I don’t know how it would play out. Obviously, I have the same frustrations as pretty much all the government employees. We want to go back to work. We are in our careers because we enjoy them and want to do good things. We would like to go back. It’s not like we are enjoying this vacation.”
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Jenn Armstrong-Solomon provides the services of her trauma-sensitive yoga nonprofit, Tall Mountain Wellness, free of charge to groups like the Summit County Drug Court and the county jail.