Editor’s note: Media reports around The Beacon‘s press time Jan. 25 indicated President Donald Trump would agree to a deal to reopen the government through Feb. 15, though a funding bill had not actually been passed by press time. We are printing this story to show the difficulty the shutdown has caused for government workers in West Volusia.
For millions of Americans, layoffs are nothing new. Factories close, retailers go bankrupt and businesses merge, often causing collateral damage in the form of abrupt unemployment.
What really happens when someone suddenly becomes unemployed and is without an income?
Meet a casualty of the partial federal shutdown: Alyce Shelton. She works as a housing technician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose personnel and operations have not yet been funded by Congress.
The last day she worked was Dec. 21, and the lack of pay is causing hardship. For Shelton and others in her predicament, the shutdown cannot end soon enough.
“I’m just concerned,” she said. “I just hope they fix it soon.”
Shelton said she hadn’t anticipated being thrown out of work because of partisan wrangling in Washington.
“Like other people, right before Christmas, had I known, I would have done things differently,” she said.
At 56, Shelton is a GS-7 federal civil-service employee and the mother of three grown children.
Her job involves placing low-income families in apartments approved by the USDA for rental assistance.
“I work with the property managers and agents,” Shelton said. “I make sure the property is up to USDA standards. We inspect the property. We also interview 10 to 20 percent of the tenants and make sure they are comfortable.”
If a hurricane or other disaster leaves her clients’ dwellings uninhabitable, Shelton would assist in relocations.
Shelton said the office out of which she and approximately 15 staffers work is in Championsgate, near Davenport. She covers a nine-county area.
Shelton drives from her home in Deltona 65 miles one way, or 130 miles round trip, each weekday. If there is a bright side to her shutdown story, she said, it is not having to buy gasoline for the daily commute, and “less wear and tear on the car.”
Signs of trouble for federal employees first appeared in the days leading up to the shutdown.
“Inside the office they would send us emails telling us, ‘in the event of,’” Shelton said.
The employees were warned communication would be difficult in the event of a shutdown.
“We were reminded we could no longer access any computers, phones or anything,” she said.
Shelton has not heard from her supervisor since the office was locked.
The shutdown began at midnight Dec. 22, and has since become the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history.
The dispute stems from President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall, which Democrats, who took control of the House of Representatives Jan. 3, have balked at.
The shutdown is impacting 800,000 federal employees, about half of whom are furloughed, like Shelton.
Others, who are considered essential employees, like federal law-enforcement personnel, are working without pay.
She has cut back on spending and has begun juggling monthly expenses to make ends meet.
“I pay $1,350 a month for rent. I asked my landlord, ‘Can I pay you $1,000 now?’” she said, adding she intends to catch up on past-due rent after she returns to work. “He was very nice.”
So far, she has not gone hungry.
“My mom happens to be a food hoarder. She grew up really poor. She’s given food. A friend called and said, ‘I have a bag of food for you,’” Shelton said.
She has been touched by the generosity and caring of others.
“I have been truly, truly blessed with friends who have helped,” she said.
One blessing came as Shelton attended a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in DeLand.
“A friend at the park, Earl Brown Park in DeLand, I had just met him the day before, and he said he wanted to help, and he gave me what he had. I got to the car, and it was about $80,” Shelton said.
Austerity has meant fewer purchases of more healthful food, such as fresh vegetables and fruit.
What about electricity?
“I have not been cut off,” Shelton said. “I made it through January. February is when I’m going to feel the real impact. It’s going to be difficult.”
Jan. 25 was supposed to be a payday.
Under the federal pay schedule, the next payday — if the shutdown ends — may not be until Friday, Feb. 8.
Federal employees, by the way, do not receive checks, but have their wages deposited directly into their bank accounts.
If the shutdown suddenly ends, Shelton said it would take at least two months to get back on track and pay outstanding bills.
In the meantime, she may face a more immediate threat.
“I’m worried about my health insurance, and I have high blood pressure. I need to renew my medication. I just got my last refill,” Shelton said.
Like others in and out of government, Shelton is waiting for an end to the roller-coaster ride of high hopes and low expectations.
In what has been the longest federal shutdown or lockout in American history, Shelton and her civil-service compatriots can look back in future years and say, “I went through it.”