Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I am NOT a government employee. This is my shutdown.

I work for a DC nonprofit and I'm a small business owner and although I may not be a federal employee -- I am at least working part-time -- it is hard out here. Major hardships are being experienced by those of us who live and work in the outer circle of shutdown hell (known as grant recipients and government contractors). The shutdown struggle is real. 

First, I want to say that I understand and appreciate the media coverage on furloughed federal employees and the financial impact this shutdown is having on them. Federal employees and their families are really suffering. They need help. But I wouldn't be me if I didn't throw in my 2 cents (and at this rate that may be all I have).  While odds are good that furloughed federal employees (and DC employees if it comes to that) will at some point receive back pay no such thing is in the works (at least not right now) for your local nonprofit organization, grant recipient, or government contractor -- even if they are still doing the work they are contracted to do.

Let that sink in for a minute. A significant portion of the U.S. workforce is being directly impacted by the shutdown and there is no talk about how to make them whole when (or if) this crisis is over. There is no emergency legislation or rainy day fund or magic pot of money earmarked for us. No one is holding a rally, there are no press conferences, and no one is writing letters to our creditors.  Shoot, without a government ID we don't even qualify for many of the furlough deals around town.

It's already hard out here for a government contractor/nonprofit/small business. It's damn near catastrophic during a shutdown. 

I know I am but one of many voices right now wishing Congress would get their act together and stop playing Chicken with our finances but I had to speak up and say something -- as much as my little platform will allow.  I wish the tea party would realize (and quickly!) that it is more important to make sense than make a point at the expense of every day citizens already struggling in a challenging economic climate. These days my only response to Sallie Mae when they call inquiring about my deferred student loan payments is to laugh. Good luck trying to cash that! Humor is about the only thing I can afford and even that is starting to wear thin.

The depressing reality is that for many of us who depend on government funding for our jobs the damage has pretty much been done. Even if the federal government were to reopen tomorrow (and that is looking unlikely) there will be no back pay for us government contractors and the possibility of grant funds and invoices being paid quickly is also looking unlikely. In the hierarchy of obligations owed those of us already operating on shoestring budgets find ourselves looking into a dry well at the end of a very, very, very long line along the edge of a cliff. Hell, if someone stepped up right now and offered to sponsor some of my nonprofit's programming I would probably kiss them right on the lips, do a cart wheel, and then follow that up with enough twerking to put that Miley Cyrus to shame. Like many nonprofits around the region and across the nation we are having to cut back on vital expenses, work staff less (if at all) but still try to provide services. Why? Because we love what we do and we think --- correction: we know --- that our work makes a difference. We can't afford to lose what headway we have made so far. Inertia is the killer of all great progress.

I wonder how many of us nonprofits and contractors will be able to ride out this (latest) storm and how many of us will just be blown away. Furloughed into nonexistence. This shutdown has transformed an entire segment of the U.S. workforce from "those that help" into "those that need" at the worst possible time. The job market is now flooded with panicked people looking for replacements to the jobs they just lost, nonprofit reserves are all but dried up (we have afterall provided the services we have yet to be paid for), and during it all the tea party republicans play "Keep Away" with the life preservers.

So while the focus appears to be on the likelihood of America reaching the debt ceiling limit in the next 18 hours or so,  I wish that Congress (and the media) would take a moment and think about all the families, nonprofits, small businesses, contractors, and yes, even us bloggers who 16 days ago hit our very own debt ceiling.

Stop messing around. #EndThisNow

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Susie Cambria said...

Well put, Nikki. But I would also emphasize the local part of the story which is that I believe, as do others, that DC residents would be much better off if we could freely spend locally-raised revenue as we planned and so choose. But we can't because the District's budget must be approved by Congress and the President.

I encourage everyone to take a stand to #FreeDC 's budget. There's a rally and parade to the Hill Monday, October 21. More information is here:

h st ll said...

Yeah, this is crazyness. Employed single mothers can't make ends meet. Lots of people hurting. And it will all accomplish nothing...

Looks like a deal will be done today at least.