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We are now into day seven of a partial shutdown of the federal government. Government employees are still getting paid for work they did before the shutdown, but the checks will soon be stopping. Among the 800,000 people to be affected nationwide are many people who struggle to make ends meet even in the best of times. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: U.S. government workers on the whole make more than private sector workers, but there are plenty on the low end. Federal employees are paid according to their position on what's called the General Schedule. GS-1 workers start out at about 19,000 a year. An employee at the other end can make as much as 136,000. About 1 out of 8 full-time government workers makes less than $40,000 a year. Paul Kiefer, who works at an IRS service center in Austin, Texas, is in that general range.
PAUL KIEFER: I'm looking at everybody's returns to make sure everything is correct. And if there's an error, I may have to correct that error.
GJELTEN: A lot of responsibility, not a lot of income in today's economy. And it's about to stop at least temporarily.
KIEFER: Right now I'm worried about whether or not I can make a credit card payment, whether or not I can pay for the electricity, getting any food, pay for the rent, whether or not I'm going to be thrown out onto the street.
GJELTEN: It's that serious?
KIEFER: It's very serious.
GJELTEN: Kiefer was also affected by a previous government shutdown. In that case, he eventually got back pay but only because Congress authorized it. There's no guarantee he'll get it this time. Brooke Cole, who works at a Coast Guard air station in Port Angeles, Wash., is also caught up in the shutdown - also worried about what it'll mean.
BROOKE COLE: I'm not ashamed to talk about my finances at all. I think, you know, there's a lot of Americans hurting out there. You know, just to give you some perspective, I only have about $1,000 in savings. And if this continues through mid-January, I'm not going to have enough money saved up to pay for my bills and expenses.
GJELTEN: She has a long list.
COLE: I have to pay my rent. I have to - you know, I have a car payment. I have child care payments. You know, I have student loan payments, utility payments - all sorts of fun stuff (laughter).
GJELTEN: Cole works directly for the U.S. government. There are also many who work indirectly through contractors. A 2009 study found that 1 out of 5 government contract workers have incomes below the poverty threshold. They'll also be affected by this shutdown. Even some military members are affected. Brooke Cole's husband is on active duty in the Coast Guard stationed in Texas. And because the Coast Guard belongs to the Department of Homeland Security, not the Defense Department, he's likely to suffer during the shutdown.
COLE: If he doesn't get paid, we're both going to be in a world of hurt, especially because we maintain two households. I have credit cards available to me. I - you know, I might have to be forced to use those. I might have to call creditors to, like, you know, see if I can extend payments.
GJELTEN: Some Trump administration officials have downplayed the seriousness of this shutdown, but they don't deny it will have an impact. The government's Office of Personnel Management website has sample letters furloughed employees can send to their creditors asking for leniency. The office suggests workers conclude their appeals by saying, I appreciate your willingness to work with me and your understanding during this difficult time. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.
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