So, You’ve been Furloughed…

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.

7 Responses to So, You’ve been Furloughed…

  1. Although it is terrible for the individuals, it may affect the economy if it goes too long. It is more of a symptom of the way politics has evolved. Whether it is the president or the citizens there needs to be some pressure on Congress to do what is right.
    krantcents´s last blog post ..2011 Quarterly Goals Update

  2. I work for our state government, and they are currently decided how to shave $500 million from our budget. Eek! So far they are making us pay more of our healthcare premium, but that is only plugging $194 million of the problem. Furloughs have been discussed, as have paycuts for those making more than $60,000. I guess we’ll see! Fortunately our finances are in great shape.
    Amanda L Grossman´s last blog post ..Frugal Confessions – Frugal Living

  3. Hubby is considered “essential” personnel….which means he will get the honor of working…and not getting paid…..hopefully he would eventually.

    I completely disagree with the idea of retro pay for the people who are furloughed and not working. They get the time off…in theory….and still get paid.

    My husband will still have to work. No “vacation” for him. Granted, if he was in the furlough category, I would want him to be paid….but in the very basic principle of it….

    work = pay
    no work = no pay.
    Mysti´s last blog post ..Federal government shutdown

  4. @Amanda: Yes, there’s a whole ‘nother barrel of worms that will be opened when we start trying to balance state budgets. Here’s hoping you don’t have to take too much of a haircut in order for your state to meet their budgetary goals.

    @Mysti: That’s another entirely, the ‘essential’ personal who have to work but don’t know when they’ll get paid. Luckily, it looks like everything was settled without having to rely on unpaid work or other similar situations. Here’s hoping we don’t run into similar issues with the 2012 budget.

    As for people getting paid for furlough time, that’s a whole different issue to be considered. It’s tough situation; on one hand, you don’t want to cut off the income of people simply due to budgetary issues outside of their control, on the other hand, as you say, the principle of only being paid for work that you do should hold. It’s a tough question to argue.

  5. They just did an extension….by the end of this week we can be back where we were.

    Regarding budgetary issues out of ones control….if you think about it…isn’t that how any lay off goes??? A company can’t afford to pay you….you get laid off. The government is nothing but a really large company.
    Mysti´s last blog post ..Federal government shutdown

  6. @Mysti: Ah, I was misinformed about what sort of agreement had been reached. (All the stories I read were picking ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in the budget battle like the issue was resolved, not as if it were just half time.) Here’s hoping the powers that be in Washington come to a resolution soon.

    You do have a point about the budgets of companies being similar to that of the government, although I would argue that (a) the general understanding (at least by us outside lay people) is that by working in the government, you give up the opportunity to earn a larger salary in exchange for more security, and this whole budgetary conflict seems to do a number on that one, (b) unlike a business (or most businesses, I’d hope), the government has to deal with dozens, if not hundreds, of people posturing and strutting and trying to drum up their bases to reach a budget, and (c) I imagine most companies would not have much success with having ‘essential’ workers continue working without getting paid, or telling nonessential workers to go home and come back in a few weeks, when they will probably (but not certainly) get back pay for the time they miss. A bit different, all in all, I’d say.

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