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Walnut Canyon Closed

A barricade bears a sign announcing that due to the government shutdown Walnut Canyon is closed to visitors in 2018. The monument was closed again early this year because of another shutdown.

As the government shutdown drags into its fourth week, federal employees across northern Arizona are facing the prospect of going even longer without pay.

One such federal worker is Bill Guise, who said his family has had to take out a small loan to help them get through the shutdown.

The loan, which they got from the Department of the Interior Federal Credit Union, comes without interest, and they hope it will provide them with enough money to get them through the rest of the shutdown, Guise said.

But it’s not just about keeping a roof over their head and food on the table. On top of needing money to pay their mortgage and bills, Guise said he and his wife have two kids enrolled in college and have taken out loans for them.

“It’s cruel; there was a time within my lifetime when one looked at government work as stable,” Guise said. But now he worries that banks and creditors may not see those who work for the federal government as having stable employment.

Even so, Guise said his family is not feeling the worst of the shutdown. Even though he has been furloughed, he has still been receiving some money through his veteran’s affairs disability benefits. Because of these benefits, Guise said his family has a certain amount of financial cushion that many of his colleagues don’t have.

The Office of Personnel Management did provide employees with a form letter that employees could send to creditors or landlords asking for some leniency during the shutdown, but Guise said they have not used it.

Ian Hughes, who lives in Flagstaff and works for the National Park Service, said he and his wife are also considering taking out a loan to get them through the shutdown.

So far they have started to dig into savings to pay bills, which is not easy, Hughes said.

“Whereas in the past, we have thought, ‘we can cover things with savings,’” Hughes said, this time they are not so sure.

Hughes said he has been with the Park Service for almost 20 years but when he started, he never thought of a shutdown like this as a possibility.

Like Guise, Hughes said he too is not deemed an essential employee.

Generally, both employees considered essential and non-essential receive back pay for the time of the shutdown, but when it comes to non-essential employees that pay is not a certainty.

Hughes said even though there is good indication that Congress will pass the bill to provide back pay to furloughed federal workers, given the state of Washington, D.C., he and his wife decided to prepare for the worst.

Luckily, they are a two-income household, Hughes said, explaining that his wife works for a state agency and thus is still working and can help support them.

But the consequences of the shutdown are not only financial, and Hughes said morale is low among the colleagues to whom he has spoken.

And Guise agreed.

“We feel like we're being pawns,” Guise said. “[The administration is] putting pressure on us to put pressure on the legislature.”

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Guise said it’s especially discouraging to be furloughed all the while knowing Congress is still receiving pay.

“Well, I’m angry about that,” Guise said, adding he wondered if Congress might be more willing to reopen the government if they too were not seeing their own paychecks.

But not everyone is seeing the shutdown as all bad.

Lindsay McElfresh works for the Coconino National Forest as the captain of a fire engine said that her family has not been as effected by the shutdown. Both McElfresh and her husband, who also works for the federal government, are deemed essential and are either working or are on call.

When it began, McElfresh said they had both already scheduled on taking time off for the holidays and the shutdown has continued to let them both spend a little more time with their children.

The state of Arizona was also ranked 10 of states most effected by the shutdown in a study conducted by the personal finance website WalletHub.

The rankings were based on publicly available data and, among other aspects, took into account the share of federal jobs compared to total employment, the number of dollars provided through federal contracts, the percent of the population receiving food stamps and access to national parks.

The state’s neighbor to the east, New Mexico, is even more impacted than Arizona coming in as the second most impacted state, just behind the District of Colombia itself, which was also included.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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