Shutdown Survival Tip: Have Lots of Money!

Wednesday - 3/16/2011, 4:00am EDT

With the threat of an extended shutdown hanging over their heads, feds are being bombarded with good and well-meaning advice about how to get by for a few weeks without a paycheck. The last big shutdown in the winter of 1995-96 hit hundreds of thousands of workers and lasted for 21 days.

While it is helpful to be told that you need a cash cushion in reserve to pay bills, buy food, etc., during hard times, the advice stops short in telling you how to (quickly) come up with enough money to cover 3 to 6 months worth of bills.

Many feds live from paycheck-to-paycheck. That's especially true of younger employees, but it also applies to mid-career civil servants who have families to support. And they are not alone...

In the 1990s we learned that a number of members of Congress also had cash flow problems, to the point where they were writing scores of bad checks.

Clearly the members of Congress did have cash reserves to even cover their regular bills. Fortunately for them they were not (and are now not) subject to involuntary furloughs. Up until reforms were made in the mid-1990s a number of well-known House members were paying bills, via check, when their credit union accounts were empty. They kept it up because, at the time, they didn't have to pay those pesky NSF (Not Sufficient Funds) penalties that applied to the rest of us.

So how did rank-and-file feds fare during the last extended furlough? Turns out a lot of them had to apply for unemployment benefits or seek loans to get by. One of the places they turned was FEEA, the Federal Employees Education and Assistance fund. It's part of the Combined Federal Campaign and also gets money for emergency loans and scholarships from very generous corporate sponsors like Blue Cross-Blue Shield and GEICO.

In fact money from FEEA has been, and is still going, to the children of feds who were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. At that time FEEA pledged a full-ride scholarship, to any school the young people could get into. Many have graduated. Others are still in school.

FEEA also helped lots of workers during the last furlough. Executive Director Steve Bauer recalls:

    "...Been enjoying your columns on the potential shutdown. It brings back 'fond' memories of 1996 when FEEA was caught in the middle of the chaos. FEEA, always there when federal employees need help, was inundated with requests for assistance. In fact, requests for help began to come in even before anyone had missed a paycheck. This was the days before e-mail so we had a fax machine (loaded with the old thermal paper) rolling day and night receiving applications and the post office had to send a special mail truck to our office each day to deliver all of the mailed applications for assistance. It was an all hands on deck moment and we even had volunteers in the office opening mail and reviewing applications.

    "It was also a time where much of the American public realized how many important and varied services federal employees provide everyday. And I believe the public also began to realize that federal employees are not necessarily 'fat cats' but they were their neighbors with mortgages and rent and utilities to pay. Many, many federal employees live paycheck to paycheck and a two week pay period with no check is devastating. We ended up sending out almost $60,000 to federal families. Checks sent out were in some cases as little as $100 to put food on the table.

    "This was such a big story at the time that NBC News come out to our office in Colorado and I ended up on the national news with Tom Brokaw. The cameras rolled on the piles of mail and the fax machine running none stop as symbols of the fact that federal families were indeed middle America and one missed paycheck meant serious trouble for many, many families.

    "...Because most employees received back pay, we were able to stop processing the thousands of applications that were in the pipeline.

    "... More importantly, few people realize that not everyone was made whole. Federal agencies like the IRS have a significant number of WAEs (when actually employed). These folks get paid when they are called in to work - when they don't work, they don't get paid. Large numbers of these folks would have worked during the shutdown but could not because the offices they worked in were closed down. The did NOT get back pay because there is no legal authority to pay them when they do not work."

Steve Bauer will be our guest today on our Your Turn with Mike Causey radio show. He'll talk about what happened last time out and what feds might expect if history repeats itself. Also...

Furloughs/Postal Drawdown/DoD Shutdown Plans

Want to know the status of the furlough/shutdown efforts? Will you be caught up in the Postal Service downsizing? Interested in the Pentagon's shutdown contingency plans? If any or all of those are important to you, listen to Your Turn with Mike Causey today at 10 a.m. Federal Times Editor Steve Watkins plans to break some news and you are among the first in line. That's 10 a.m. on 1500 AM (in the DC area) or anywhere by clicking here.

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

Thanks to Charles @ FERC, the NUF learns of an addition to yesterday's NUF offering. While Bill Cosby, Michael Landon and Lee Majors have all starred in prime time TV shows in three different decades, there was one prominent name left off the list.

    "Hasn't Tom Selleck starred in prime time four different decades? Magnum P.I. was 1980-1988. He's now starring as some kind of a high ranking policeman in a show that takes place in New York. Between 1988 and now, hasn't he starred in prime time shows during the decades of the '90s and '00s?

Separated at birth?

He sure has. In the 90s, he co-starred in Friends. If that's not high enough billing, Selleck was the lead role in a sitcom called The Closer which lasted for 10 episodes in 1998. And, of course, there was Las Vegas, but that was in 2007.

Thanks Charles! I always forget about Tom Selleck because he looks so much like Mike Causey.

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