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For Furloughed Worker, Isolation, Hit To Self-Worth Hurt As Much As Lost Pay


The shutdown is affecting federal workers' pocketbooks. But for some, it's also taking a toll on their mental health. We're joined now by one IRS agent who has been deeply affected. We're only using her first name because she fears for her job. Jamie, welcome to the program.

JAIME: Thank you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When was the last time you got a paycheck?

JAIME: So my last paycheck was last year.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How have you been making ends meet?

JAIME: So I haven't, really. I haven't been able to pay any of my bills that are due, like insurance, car payment. Like, I still need to contact my financial institutions and make arrangements with them to see what I can do. But our local Catholic food bank opened up for federal workers who were furloughed. So we have been able to get, like, a cart of groceries from them. And we will be able to go back one more time this month. You know, we survive paycheck to paycheck under normal circumstances.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me a little bit about how this has affected your mental health.

JAIME: Well, it's a huge blow to, like, my self-esteem, I mean, because I do take pride in what I do. It's been extremely hard because I struggle with, like, depression and anxiety and eating disorder. And, like, it's hard to even get out of bed. Like, I'm losing track of days. Like, it's hard to, like, fall asleep and stay asleep just being worried about, you know, where my next meal is coming from, when I'm going to get paid, when I'm going to be able to pay my bills.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When someone struggles with mental health issues, having a routine, having a place to go, having structure often helps. Is that the role that your job played for you?

JAIME: Yeah, definitely, because - I don't know. It's depressing to get up and - knowing that you can't do anything to change what's happening but wishing that you could. And then - I'm sorry. Excuse me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's OK. Take your time.

JAIME: It's just hard to, like, know how much of this I can handle, you know? Like - because my - at work is where I interact with people the most. It gives me, like, a sense of purpose, you know? Like, I know what I'm doing is helping people. And I just feel kind of worthless right now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you're not. I also understand you're having trouble accessing your medication.

JAIME: Yeah. Like, I don't have money to go see my doctor and get my medications. Like, I don't have the funds. So that's also hard just because, like, I normally am on a couple of medications that really help. But yeah - just not having any structure and not having any funds. It's like I can't get the tools to help me live a more fulfilling life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Jaime, a tax examiner with the IRS who has been furloughed due to the government shutdown. Thank you so much for joining us.

JAIME: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.