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Robin Ferrier works in the Office of Communications at the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. She is also the Vice Chair of the Gaithersburg Book Festival and a published fiction author. Prior to working at NIH, she spent 6 years working for Johns Hopkins University. She also worked... Read more

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Unemployment and the #FurloughedFed

On my last day in the office, there was a lot of talk about unemployment in relation to the government shutdown. We knew we could file, but I think all of us hoped we wouldn’t have to, that the shutdown would be short-lived. As we go into Day 8/10, it’s clear that short-lived is not a word we can associate with this shutdown. I think we also all hoped we wouldn’t have to because of the potential for backpay. But with the Senate not yet having voted on the backpay issue (to my knowledge), that issue also remains up in the air… as undecided as what day I’ll actually have to once again get up at 5:45 to get to work by 8:15.

And here’s reality: I have a daughter. I have a mortgage and utilities that I pay by myself. I have daycare expenses…  the list goes on and on. And the bills will keep arriving, shutdown or no shutdown.

iStock_000025345097XSmallSo last week, I did something I never thought I’d have to do. I filed for unemployment. It wasn’t an easy decision. But I’ve spent the past 15 years paying into the system. So given the situation, I think I deserve to get something back, even if it ends up being a “loan” of sorts. And it sucked. Not the process — the process for initiating the claim was pretty easy — but just the fact of having to do so. It was demoralizing, even while I knew that I was only temporarily out of work.

Then today I spent close to two hours filling out follow-up paperwork sent to me by Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, & Regulation. The paperwork was confusing and, at times, contradictory in their instructions. Even worse, I tried calling FOUR different phone numbers during the course of 1.5 hours hoping to speak to someone who could help decode the paperwork… and I never spoke to anyone. I couldn’t even get placed in a queue for help. Instead, each line told me that due to the shutdown, the department was facing high call volume, that all representatives were busy, and that I would have to call back at a later time. Then, each time, the phone hung up on me. Frustrating. Maddening. Unacceptable, given the circumstances. Finally, I just did the best I could, crossed my fingers, hoped my interpretations were right, and sent in what I could.

Best case scenario in all of this? I go back to work (soon) and the Senate and President both agree to backpay, after which I pay back the unemployment benefits that I receive during this time.

Worst case scenario? There are two:

1. This shutdown drags on for a long time and I dip into my savings to pay my bills while receiving unemployment, which is only a tiny fraction of what I’d normally receive for a salary. But, if the shutdown ends and we get a vote for backpay, my savings eventually will be replenished. So short-term pain, but a better long-term outlook.

2. The absolute worst case scenario: The shutdown drags on for a long time and I dip into my savings to pay my bills while receiving unemployment, which is only a tiny fraction of what I’d normally receive for a salary, and we aren’t granted backpay. So my savings remain depleted. Why? Because I chose a job that is in service to the country vs. private industry. What a harsh message, one that I hope Congress and the President don’t choose.

Either way, the current situation remains the same. I’m now on unemployment, waiting for that first check. And I hate it.

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Robin Ferrier

About Robin Ferrier

Robin Ferrier is the Vice Chair of the Gaithersburg Book Festival. She has had three short stories published in anthologies and literary journals and had a play performed in Source theater's 10 Minute Play Competition. She has an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. from the University of Virginia.


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