Local federal employees in a holding pattern waiting to return to work

By Amber McIver- Traywick

The Surveyor

Thursday, Jan. 17, is day 27 of the partial government shutdown that has resulted in 800,000 federal employees and contractors being furloughed without pay and prevented from even so much as checking work emails. The Labor Department reports the State of Colorado alone has 54,562 people employed by the federal government, several of those individuals call Berthoud home.

For those workers left in limbo, not knowing how long the shutdown will last, life is being lived in a constant state of unrest in the midst of the unknown. Life still goes on, bills are still due, groceries still need to be bought and, for those fortunate enough to have savings, those also begin to dwindle as multiple paychecks are not being received.

Courtesy photo – Sue Brungardt (center) with her daughter Dana and son Darren.

Most of the individuals affected had a good idea the shutdown was imminent, but all hoped the notification wouldn’t come. But, on Dec. 22 the emails and phone calls came telling them not to report to work. The following are just a few Berthoud residents who are making their way through the shutdown.

Sue Brungardt has worked for the federal government for 28 years and currently is in an IT and security position for the Department of Agriculture in Fort Collins. She is a Berthoud native whose family has been in the community since 1905. Brungardt said this is her third furlough. The possibility of furlough this time around has been even more tumultuous, as her department was shut down for six hours last fall prior to a continuing resolution made by the government that brought financing to her department temporarily. “Every couple of weeks we would go through possible shut down notifications, every time they would do a continuing resolution it would be extended for a few weeks and then December happened.” Although she says she has been fortunate enough to have significant savings to help her through this time she sympathizes with young families and those who haven’t worked for the government as long as she has, saying even 15 years ago this would have been much more difficult for her. Putting a positive spin on an unfortunate situation, she said, “I retire in two years, so I’m calling this my retirement training.”

Courtesy photo – Kristen Caldwell with her son Dayne.

Kristen Caldwell is a mail clerk for the Department of Commerce. A single mother who also grew up in Berthoud and is now raising her 9-year-old son here, said, “I haven’t worked since Dec. 22. I’m still up-to-date on all of my bills, but as of next week I may not be.” Caldwell has family in the area who have helped her out during this time, but as the situation drags on things are looking tougher. She’s applied for unemployment, which, if and when her pay is reimbursed by the government, will have to be repaid, but won’t find out until Jan. 20 if her claim has been accepted. She was given a list of places she could go to for assistance with food and rent but said, “I haven’t gone to any of those yet, but next week I may have to.” She said her son has been angry because he doesn’t understand why he has to go to school if she doesn’t have to go to work. “I don’t think he understands the severity of it yet.” Caldwell works a part-time job at her church a couple of days a month and said she’s thankful for that small boost of income right now but, “Going through this with a child, it’s a very difficult thing and we’ve got to be patient, and hope to God everything turns out.”

Courtesy photo – Derrick Jones with his wife Kelly Jo.

Derrick Jones works for the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Department of Commerce. Jones is a U.S. Navy veteran and his job now is in the safety department as an environmental engineer and hazardous material safety officer. He said as the furlough was made official he thankfully already had plans to take vacation time, enabling him to still receive pay for the duration of the vacation around the holidays to enjoy time with family and friends. “It didn’t hit me until after the holiday and I wasn’t going back in.” His last paycheck came on Dec. 28.  “…my wife, she works, so we are fine financially this month and next month, but the following month, you start to dwindle away what you’ve saved,” he said. There are a lot of unknowns Jones was quick to comment on that add to the stress, not just for him and his family but for many others in more dire circumstances. Jones said he just started looking for a temporary contract job to fill in for now but doesn’t want to take work away from someone who needs a long-term job, as he hopes to, sooner rather than later, be back to work. One frustration for him has been hearing comments that these jobs aren’t essential, so why do we even need them, to which he has responded, “Some jobs can be nonessential for a period of time, but it is essential, just not immediate.”

Courtesy photo – Bill Compton with grandson Arthur.

Bill Compton and his wife have lived in Berthoud for a year-and-half and he currently works as a contract software engineer for the Department of Agriculture in Fort Collins. The unique situation for furloughed contract workers, of which there are thousands, is that there is no chance they will recuperate their pay. They simply won’t be reimbursed for the time they are unable to work. Like Jones, he has utilized his vacation time but used all he had to still receive pay up until this week, a luxury he was quick to mention many of his coworkers who did not have vacation time were unable to take advantage of. Compton said he considers himself fortunate, as just as his vacation time ran out he and several of his coworkers were called to return to work after the project they had been working on went into a crisis mode and critical functions of the software needed to be dealt with. Despite the financial concerns that were held at bay by the vacation pay, he said the fact he used all of his vacation time will make taking care of his aging mother in Kentucky more complicated, as she will soon need help transitioning into a care facility. “It’s going to be important for me to be there, but I won’t have any vacation to be able to do that. I’m going to have some hard choices to make,” he said.




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