As of the last time I checked the news (7:37:08 Friday morning), there still hasn’t been a budget agreement reached that will prevent the United States federal government from shutting down today. While I’m certain the possibility exists for a stunning, eleventh hour agreement to be reached that keeps the government open (if only for the next seven days, as the latest proposal from the House of Representatives would), I think it’s worth considering what will happen in cause an agreement can’t be reached. What’s that, you say I’m cynical, thinking that the mature and reasonable elected officials in Washington D.C. will not be able to come to a reasonable conclusion, even with the eyes of the nation focused on them? Well, perhaps, but let’s run with the concept anyway.
There’s a lot of discussion out there about how a shutdown would effect the typical Joe or Jane Citizen, detailing the government programs and agencies that would not longer be functioning (try not to smile too gleefully about the IRS being unable to conduct audits) and the problems it will cause the average person. I’m going to take a different tact, and look at those ‘nonessential’ government workers who will be unable to work during a shutdown (or collect their paychecks during that time).
Yes, this article goes out to people like my mother, who in the event of a widespread government furlough, will find herself not working until Washington D.C. gets its act together. It’s far from a complete guide to your furlough time, but hopefully it will help you keep your head together while you are unable to work:
1) Don’t Panic: Good advice to consider during almost any troubling situation, there’s nothing that panicking will do that will benefit you. Yes, it’s far from fun being labeled as ‘nonessential’, particularly if you regularly have to deal with people who gladly accept your services (and frequently, the government money you dispense) but then immediately complain about the lack of service they get and size of your paycheck. But bear in mind that there is a fair to good chance that you will end up being compensated for the missed time anyway (as government workers have in past shutdowns), and in the mean time, you can watch as the politicians try to deal with all complaints about delayed checks and lack of service that would otherwise be directed at you.
2) Try Not to Empty Your Emergency Fund: Even allowing that you will likely be compensated for your lost work time eventually, you are going to need money to live on in the meantime. Hopefully, you’ve established a nice emergency fund and will have no problem surviving (and even thriving) while you wait to go back to work. Even if you do have enough money to survive weeks, or perhaps months (this is Congress we’re talking about), without an agreement being struck, though, you want to keep from emptying your emergency fund. While I’ve noted above that you will likely receive any back pay for time that you were furloughed, that depends on the generosity of Congress, and as you’ve probably guessed, you probably shouldn’t stake your survival on them. Plus, there are already rumblings that the 2012 budget will cause as much, if not more, ‘discussion’ and consternation among lawmakers, so you should try to be prepared for that. On the subject of being prepared…
3) Consider Using Your Downtime to Start a Side Project: Assuming this government shutdown (and thus, your furlough) stretches on for a while (that is, Congress doesn’t spend every waking minute trying to knock out some sort of plan and ends up wrapping things up by Monday), you might start to wonder how to spend this unplanned (and unpaid, at least for now) time off. Well, why not start a side project of some sort? From creating a blog to doing repair work on your relatives’ cars, there’s any number of things you could consider to bring in a bit more money while you have some down time. Who knows, you might just find something you enjoy doing more than government work.
4) Don’t Be Offended: Possibly most importantly of all, don’t be offended that you are considered ‘nonessential’. There is likely to be a far amount of dung being slung around (metaphorically, anyway) (at least, I hope it will stay metaphorical) about government workers as various politicians and commentators try to jockey and shift public perception. I’ve known more than a few government workers in my life (including, as noted, my mother) and there’s nothing I’ve seen that makes you any less hard-working, diligent, or otherwise less deserving of respect than private workers. Here’s hoping everyone involved in this debate keep that in mind while they try to determine an appropriate budget.
There you have it, my advice to (potentially) furloughed government employees. Here’s hoping an agreement is reached by the close of business today, but if not… Well, perhaps we’ll see what happens when 800,000 people start side businesses all at once. That would definitely be a sight to see.