8 Real-Life Stories That Prove There's No "Winning" a Government Shutdown


It’s pretty easy to visualize some of the effects of a government shutdown (national parks closed, government workers furloughed, the grass not being trimmed at the Lincoln Memorial). But it’s easier still to overlook how the shutdown affects individuals. Here are just a few examples of how real people are experiencing the shutdown while House Republicans and the president bicker over a proposal to raise the nation’s debt limit for six weeks:

1. Wendi Pencille

Wendi Pencille, a federal bird handler, has a dead bald eagle stuffed in her freezer. Normally she and other workers are responsible for shipping the federally protected remains of bald eagles to a center near Denver that distributes the feathers and bones to Native American groups that incorporate them in religious ceremonies.

2. Natalia Otero

Natalia Otero, the executive director of a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. that aids victims of domestic violence, has lost $250,000 in federal grants. She said the money would have paid for cab fare to transport abused women from hospitals to emergency homes, to feed and shelter abused families, and to change the locks on their doors. 

3. The Benjamin, Dupont, and Winkler Families

The families of Lucas Benjamin, Mark Benjamin, Kyla Dupont, and Lauren Winkler still don’t know the cause of a plane crash that killed their loved ones. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) had to suspend its inquiry once the shutdown began. The NTSB also wasn’t able to send federal safety investigators to inspect a church bus crash that killed eight people in Tennessee.  

4. Michelle Langbehn

Michelle Langbehn, a 30-year old mother with a Sarcoma cancer, was on the verge of starting a clinical drug trial conducted by the National Institute of Health Institute. Now she, along with 200 other patients about to start clinical trials, must wait for the shutdown to end before research can begin. 

5. Tim Peterson

Tim Peterson is unsure what sort of market contracts to draw up for his 900 acres of winter wheat because he can’t access the Department of Agriculture’s forecast information. Tens of thousands of farmers are in a similar plight, and their worry is deepened over concern that federal subsidy checks may also be delayed. Citrus growers have a special problem because the USDA forecast is the first survey of each new season and is vital for growers who use the information to negotiate prices with juice processors. Fear of being unprepared for a winter frost is haunting many of them. 

6. Ashley Peters

Ashley Peters was denied a federal death benefit after her husband Joseph was killed with four other American soldiers in Afghanistan last weekend. The "death gratuity" is normally paid out by the military to the families of fallen soldiers to help cover the cost of traveling to meet the body and the funeral expenses. Seventeen service members have died since the shutdown began 10 days ago and none of their families have received federal gratuity. Instead, private organizations like the Fisher House Foundation have temporarily taken over this sensitive service. 

7. Jean Archambeau

Jean Archambeau, the vice chairwoman for the Yankton Sioux Tribe, said subsidized heating assistance for the poor in her South Dakota reservation will not be available as winter snows start falling. 1.7 million Native Americans rely heavily on the federal government for social services and employment, and they have felt the effects of the shutdown more keenly than many other groups. 

8. Steve Shockley

Steve Shockley, a contractor who works as a technical writer for the Justice Department, is out of work indefinitely like other workers employed by the federal government. But unlike federal employees who have been taken off furlough or are promised retroactive pay, Shockley and other contractors will not receive any compensation for their government-imposed unemployment. The federal government spent more than a half-trillion dollars on private-sector contractors in 2012, which means potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted wages for contracted employees.