Today my husband will be one of the 800,000 federal employees who does not receive a paycheck as the government shutdown approaches a record-breaking 22 days. While many federal workers are furloughed, my husband must report to work every day. But his paycheck could be delayed until the shutdown ends. In the meantime, the child care center my son attends in a federal building is closed, leaving us scrambling.
During a shutdown, we must continue to pay child care tuition. That’s because the center runs on parent fees. Without that revenue, our center can’t pay staff and other bills. When you don’t pay your staff, they tend to look for other jobs-- which means the center wouldn’t be able to re-open when the government shutdown ultimately ends. Staff turnover is also disruptive for young children who learn in the context of relationships with a trusted adult and may have difficulty transitioning to a new teacher.
For the first couple weeks of the shutdown, my husband and I decided to coordinate schedules so that one person was always home while the other was working. Thanks to some flexible employers, this worked for a little while. I went to work early in the morning to be home in the late afternoon, while my husband worked in the evenings and on weekends. But this left us both exhausted and behind at work. It was a temporary solution for what was increasingly looking like a long-term issue.
As the shutdown entered its third week, we decided we needed to find alternative child care. We hired an in-home child care provider, along with another family in the same predicament. So today, we find ourselves down one paycheck with two child care bills. We’re not sure how long we can afford it, and the uncertainty is stressful.
I worry that if the shutdown continues much longer, it will do irreparable damage to our child care center. I worry that staff will find other jobs, unsure what the future holds or when they will return to work. I worry that parents will find other child care arrangements leaving the center without revenue to cover operating expenses.
As stressful as this time has been for my family, I know we’re among the lucky ones. Many federal workers are the sole breadwinners in their families with no other income to pay bills that can’t be deferred until the shutdown ends. Like most Americans, federal workers often live paycheck-to-paycheck without savings for contingencies.
As a mom, I struggle to explain the situation to my three year old, who asks me almost daily what happened to his friends and his teachers. He tells me that his class has been closed for too long.
He’s right. The government—and his class—have been closed for too long. The damage grows as each passing day brings new threats, from foodborne illness as the FDA rolls back inspections to small business and homebuyers who cannot get loans.
To add insult to injury, the families impacted by the shutdown have become collateral damage in the President’s attempt to score political points with his base. Congress can and should debate topics like border security, protecting Dreamers, and immigration reform, using the legislative process to craft policy. That’s their job as our elected representatives. The president’s tactic of holding government services hostage for a manufactured crisis has gone too far. Congress needs to tell the President that enough is enough and reopen the government.