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Federal Employees Moonlight To Pay The Bills

Jan 16, 2019
Originally published on January 16, 2019 11:10 am

As the standoff between President Trump and Congress continues over funding for Trump's proposed border wall, the partial shutdown of the federal government means workers will go weeks without a paycheck. That has some looking for temporary jobs to pay their bills.

In Boise, Idaho, Chris Kirk says he's worked for the federal government for 19 years. He administers contracts for the hundreds of millions of dollars the U.S. Forest Service spends on fighting wildfires. But these days he's on furlough and looking for extra income.

His job search was featured on a local television news program. A store owner saw the story and offered him a temporary job.

"What I do is basically throw freight around, load boxes, unload boxes, stock shelves and work a cash register," Kirk says. It's quite a change from his Forest Service job. Even though he's earning less than a quarter of his federal salary, Kirk says he's thankful for the work and for his new employer's flexibility.

"As soon as the government shutdown ends, I have to drop whatever I'm doing and go back to work," he says.

In Florida, Dorothy Dearborn also administers contracts for the government, but for the space agency NASA.

I feel a little betrayed by our politicians. You know they take an oath of office to serve our country and I do the same. I got into this many years ago and I chose to, in a way, serve my country and I expect the same out of my politicians. - Frank Ruopoli, NOAA employee currently furloughed

A single mom of three kids, Dearborn says she lives "paycheck-to-paycheck." She's using no-interest and low-interest credit cards to get by and says her family has offered help.

'We're only looking for people to stay'

Finding a temporary job has been difficult, though she did apply to a restaurant. When the restaurant owner learned she'd be going back to NASA after the partial shutdown is over, Dearborn remembers the owner saying, "That's not going to work for us right now — we are only looking for people who are going to stay."

That's a common problem federal workers say they're encountering. Still a few have found creative ways around this issue.

Frank Ruopoli of Charleston, S.C., works as a graphic designer and illustrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He says the 2013 furlough, which lasted 16 days, was hard on his family. So he developed a plan to be prepared for the next partial government shutdown.

"What I decided to do is go and get my EMT certificate," Ruopoli says. When he's working at NOAA he volunteers as an emergency medical technician with a local rescue squad. But now that he's on furlough he landed a part-time EMT job.

"It's a lot of medical transport and what I mean by that is a lot of transporting patients from hospital to hospital," Ruopoli says. The job also involves responding to 911 calls and staffing special events.

Ruopoli says the new job helped ease the financial burden of this shutdown. Still he's disappointed the country is in this position.

"I feel a little betrayed by our politicians. You know they take an oath of office to serve our country and I do the same. I got into this many years ago and I chose to, in a way, serve my country and I expect the same out of my politicians," Ruopoli says.

He and others interviewed for this story are careful to say their views are their own, not their agencies'. Most also said they were uncomfortable speaking publicly. But given that this is the longest partial shutdown in U.S. history, they hope doing so will encourage the president and Congress to resolve their differences.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Once in a while, this happens to people in the private sector - they're employed, but the paycheck doesn't come through, or it bounces. Money's getting tight. You may have to consider looking for temporary work to pay the bills. NPR's Jeff Brady reports that is exactly what is happening for federal workers as the partial government shutdown continues.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Some of those unemployed federal workers are showing up on local TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIM FIELDS: A Meridian man has spent nearly two decades working for the Forest Service. For the last 12 days...

BRADY: In Boise, Idaho, TV station KTVB talked to Chris Kirk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS KIRK: And getting on the Internet, looking for job opportunities, looking for...

BRADY: When he's not on furlough, Kirk administers contracts for the hundreds of millions of dollars the Forest Service spends on fighting wildfires. A local store owner saw that TV story and offered Kirk a temporary job.

KIRK: What I do is basically throw freight around, load boxes, unload boxes, stock shelves and work a cash register.

BRADY: Kirk says it's quite a change from his Forest Service job. And even though he's earning less than a quarter of his federal salary, he's thankful for the work and for his new employer's flexibility.

KIRK: As soon as the government shutdown ends, I have to drop whatever I'm doing and go back to work.

BRADY: In Florida, Dorothy Dearborn also administers contracts for the government but for the space agency NASA.

DOROTHY DEARBORN: I'm a single mom of three. I live paycheck to paycheck.

BRADY: Dearborn says she's using no-interest and low-interest credit cards to get by. And her family has offered help. Finding a temporary job has been difficult. She did apply to a restaurant.

DEARBORN: The first question they asked me - they said, you work for NASA? I said yes. They said, you're in furlough? I said yes. And they said, are you planning on going back? I said yes. They said, oh, we're not interested in - it's not going to work for us right now. We are only looking for people who are going to stay.

BRADY: That's a common problem federal workers say they're encountering. Still, a few have found creative ways around this problem.

FRANK RUOPOLI: My name is Frank Ruopoli. I work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And I live in Charleston, S.C.

BRADY: Ruopoli is a graphic designer and illustrator. He's worked at NOAA for nearly 20 years, where he takes scientific data and puts it in forms the rest of us can understand. He says a 2013 furlough, which lasted 16 days, was hard on his family. After that, he developed a plan to be prepared for the next partial government shutdown.

RUOPOLI: What I decided to do is go and get my EMT certificate.

BRADY: Ruopoli says when he's working at NOAA, he volunteers as an emergency medical technician with a local rescue squad. Now that he's on furlough, he landed a part-time EMT job.

RUOPOLI: It's a lot of a medical transport. And what I mean by that is a lot of transporting patients from hospital to hospital. They are a backup for the 911 systems.

BRADY: Ruopoli says the new job helped ease the financial burden of this shutdown. Still, he's disappointed the country is in this position.

RUOPOLI: I feel a little betrayed by our politicians. You know, they take an oath of office to serve our country. And I do the same. I got into this many years ago. And I chose to, in a way, serve my country. And I expect the same out of my politicians.

BRADY: Ruopoli and the others interviewed for this story are careful to say their views are their own, not their agencies. Most also said they were uncomfortable speaking publicly, but given that this is now the longest partial shutdown in U.S. history, they hope doing so will encourage the president and Congress to resolve their differences. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.