The following is a photographic essay of 21 real people – 21 of 800,000 workers – affected by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Federal workers have become unwilling pawns in the shutdown. Perhaps most dehumanizing, the media and certain politicians relegate these great individuals as a blind number — “800,000 federal workers.”
Teaming together, we (DC photographers
Kirth Bobb and Geoff Livingston) spent an afternoon photographing affected federal employees at the Creative Hands Studio. Their effort aims to show their stories and illustrate that federal workers are real people trying to make ends meet and serve our country.
Alicia Pelton is a State Department employee. To avoid spending money, Alicia is staying home a lot more. She says she’s stressed out, trying to think of ways to earn some money on the side. She has already taken a loan out against her retirement.
Alissa Redmond works at the State Department and has a young daughter. The Shutdown has forced her to consider not enrolling her daughter in pre-K to save money.
Anne Peacock works at the State Department and is worried about paying the mortgage of her new apartment. She is postponing the medical treatment her cat needs until the Shutdown ends to avoid additional debt.
Arthur Pollack works at the Department of Transportation. The timing of the Shutdown came two months after his family welcomed a surprise 4th child. Meanwhile handling he has three sons with emotional special needs. The medical copays, medication costs, and their many health-related appointments are difficult to handle without pay.
Brian Ottens works at NASA (we loved his telescope as a prop!). While the Shutdown continues, he jogs with neighbors every morning after they get their kids to school and share stories of how to make it without ruining their credit. He says, stories include how to file for unemployment in DC & MD, whose credit union will allow a delay in the car payment, and who picked up a side hustle.
Britney Crawford works at the National Archives. The Shutdown has had an adverse affect on her, causing her to suffer depression and anxiety, in addition to the drain on her personal finances.
Christine Hartman works at the National Archives. She is a single mom taking care of three boys. Making the mortgage payment is a struggle during the Shutdown.
Guiomar Ochoa works at the National Endowment for the Arts. She says she loves her job and wants to work. The lack of pay is disconcerting for the Ochoa family as Guiomar has two children, school tuition considerations, and a mortgage.
Jason Schlosberg works at the Department of Transportation. He says the Shutdown has increased his personal stress, and caused him to seek forgiveness from creditors. He is spending more time at home on house projects and with my kids.
Working in the Foreign Service at the State Department, Katrisa Bohne says it’s impossible to draw a bright line between the professional and the personal when she cares deeply about her job. She was supposed to be teaching a class for 26 local staff who work at U.S. Embassies overseas. She received unexpected health news while furloughed, and now a situation that would have been complicated enough seems overwhelming.
Lona Saccomando serves the country at the Department of Homeland Security. Her family is now down to one income and is depleting their savings. Luckily, they have enough for now. Lona says the silver lining is that it’s giving her some wonderful time with her children and allowed her to get more serious about her personal photography goals.
Meg Brennan works at the National Endowment for the Arts. She vacillates between extreme anxiety and anger toward my government for the decisions that are being made now affecting a lot of people. Mainly she is sad for the demeaning way federal employees continue to be treated. “When did we stop caring about the suffering of others?” Meg asked.
Mel Harper works at the National Gallery of Art. She is a mother and needs each and every one of her paychecks to pay bills. She will likely be late for her February mortgage payment. Mel was piloting a new project to invite DC area artists to the National Gallery. That program will have to be postponed because of the Shutdown, possibly until next year.
Naomi Johnson works at FEMA where she manages grants to fire departments across the county that pay salaries and benefits for federally funded firefighters as well as life-saving equipment. Since she is on furlough, grant funds are not being distributed to these fire departments. She is the primary caregiver for my elderly mother and pays several of her bills. The shutdown has made it difficult to support both herself and her mother.
Nathan Scarlett works at the U.S. Census Bureau. Rather than looking at the downside, Nathan thinks the ability to spend more time with his family as the biggest impact on his personal life.
Patrice Wilson works at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She is taking the Shutdown as a silver lining, forcing her to consider how she manages money as she considers her retirement in six years. Patrice has two grown children and two grandchildren that frequent her house and she considers them pseudo dependents. Patrice started a popular Facebook group for furloughed federal works to share resources and to comfort one another.
Pei Hamsik works at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She and her husband are both furloughed federal government workers so neither of them is receiving an income. They have two young children.
Robert Jackson works at the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration. The Shutdown forced him to adjust his lifestyle due to the lack of work and a normal paycheck. His wife has picked up a second job to help deal with the situation.
Sara Devlin is a Foreign Service Officer at the State Department. She says she is lucky that her spouse managed to find a job quickly after her July 2019 transfer to DC. He is currently still working and receiving a paycheck. In January she started her own #BrightSideProject 2019 to try to focus on the positives of every day. Getting time-consuming and dull tasks done has been a true “Bright Side” of the Shutdown for Sara.
Sarah Munshi works at the State Department and was studying Japanese at the Foreign Service Institute when the Shutdown began. Both she and her husband work at State and have had their incomes impacted by the Shutdown. Sarah said that while they are financially vulnerable during this time, she is grateful every day for the privileges we have.
Terry Stratton works at the Office of Management and Budget. Thanks to the Shutdown, he no longer has a good reason to get up in the morning during the work week. So he has slipped into a nocturnal schedule often reading into the wee hours. He says he would prefer to be at work because he misses the personal satisfaction of doing his job well.
You can see the Shutdown Stories
on the projects website.
About the author: Kirth Bobb and Geoff Livingston are photographers based in Washington, D.C. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors.