When Kristie Scarazzo, a divorced single mom of a 4-year-old daughter landed her dream job last September as a botanist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, she drained her savings for the exciting move to Ventura, California.
“I thought I was making a wise choice, working for the federal government,” she tells PEOPLE, “one that is very secure.”
Four months later, Scarazzo, 45, is “trying not to freak out” as she deals with the uncertainty of no pay since Dec. 22, one of approximately 800,000 employees affected both financially and emotionally by a partial government shutdown without end.
“It’s really difficult,” says Scarazzo, echoing the concerns of several federal employees whom PEOPLE spoke to as the shutdown grinds on.
“As of today, I paid my rent and I paid my childcare and I do not know how I am going to pay the rest of my bills to get through the month,” Scarazzo says. “It’s ugly and unfortunate.”
The day after Christmas, she filled out her furlough papers and a state unemployment application; she hasn’t yet heard when she’ll be receiving aid or how much.
“I’ve never received public assistance before. Part of me feels mixed about that,” she says. “I don’t know what else to do. I don’t have many cards to play.”
Scarazzo graduated college at 30 and went on to earn a master’s degree in biology with a concentration in botany. She left a county government job for her current work studying endangered species of plants that run hundreds of miles along the California coast.
Now in limbo, her worries are many: She is concerned about her research going to the wayside, about her student loan payments and, if the shutdown continues, about being able to buy food. News of no resolution amid the ever-longer freeze leaves her cringing.
“What is that going to mean for me and my situation? People need to remember the effects this is having,” she says. “I believe in being a public servant, and I love what I do and I took a slightly lower salary to be in this position — and, lo and behold, we are the ones who are suffering due to this situation. I just want to go back to work.”
Some 350,000 federal workers are furloughed, not receiving paychecks, while others are too “essential” to send home, though they aren’t being paid either, according to the Washington Post.
In a move it later described as “inadvertent,” the government in December sent a letter to affected employees advising they bargain with their landlords if needed and to work out installment plans to make rent, the Post reported.
Scarazzo isn’t simply waiting for a solution. She’s looking at getting a retail job at Patagonia or some other kind of temporary employment.
That is what Julie Burr, 49, a contract worker from Missouri has done. Burr, a single mom like Scarazzo, has no guarantee of receiving repayment for missed wages and is working part-time at Barnes & Noble to pay February’s rent and other bills.
She depleted her savings to pay January’s rent.
“This is really tough on us, we are really treading water here,” she tells PEOPLE.
Donna Kelly, 63, a single great-grandmother from Washington, D.C. who works full-time security at the Smithsonian, worries about having money for her new health insurance plan and co-pays for doctors visits and medication.
“I have no savings to turn to,” she says.
“It’s hard because I am living from paycheck to paycheck,” she continues, sharing a characteristic fear. “There are a lot of people who depend on their paycheck and we can’t survive without it.”
Scarazzo’s frustration has been compounded by the news that the president has frozen federal employees’ 2percent salary increase and that Vice President Mike Pence and top Trump appointees are receiving $10,000 raises, as first reported on Friday by the Post.
“It’s just shocking and it’s hurtful and it feels like a low blow,” she says. “It’s depressing, seeing things like that in the media when every day it’s like, ‘What is going to happen today?’ It’s disheartening.”