Furloughed students react to effects of government shutdown

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By Zachary Mellen

For Kim Hess, being furloughed during the recent government shutdown meant more time for schoolwork and a “normal amount” of sleep at night.

“I was actually relieved to have some free time,” the senior history major said.  “My schedule is crazy busy, so having an extra 20 hours a week to do homework and work on my graduate school applications was really nice.”

Hess, a staff assistant in the Office of the Archivist at the National Archives, said she’s working there about 20 hours a week this semester. She started in January 2012 and is mainly responsible for distributing the Archivist’s calendar within the agency and answering phones, though she has also helped with projects such as writing reports on internal surveys and creating briefings about the Archives.  She said she is working on posters to commemorate Veteran’s Day.

Hess said she didn’t expect the shutdown to actually happen and was skeptical about the possibility that Congress wouldn’t pass a bill to prevent it, although her boss had explained the shutdown procedures to her.

“We’ve gone through a lot of these possible shutdowns or budget crises in the short time that I’ve been working for the federal government,” Hess said, “and so I guess I was sort of cynical.”

She said she expected Congress to pass a bill at the last minute “like they always do”, and when that didn’t happen, she was “upset and sad” for the people who would not be getting paid until the shutdown ended.

Though being furloughed proved a productive time for her personally, Hess said she knows there are many workers who rely on their paychecks and likely struggled during the shutdown.

“I was angry at Congress for being so selfish and causing these people so much trouble and stress,” she said.

Senior bioengineering major Josh Nehrer spent his time while furloughed differently. As an intern for the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health this semester, he works about 12 hours a week testing procedures “used to determine safety of materials coming in contact with blood.”

Nehrer said his immediate reaction to the shutdown was: “Time to catch up on TV shows.”  He spent his two weeks off watching TV, cooking and hanging out with friends.

Nehrer wasn’t alone in this approach; a report prepared by Procera Networks for The Huffington Post said that video streaming service Netflix saw a 15 percent increase in traffic in the Washington area over the course of the shutdown.  This increase was not seen on the Gulf Coast, where Procera conducted a similar web analysis.

Neither of the students said they paid close attention to the news after the shutdown started, and both learned it had ended through Facebook.

“I stopped paying attention a few days in when it was clear that the shutdown would last a while,” Hess said. “I knew that the deadline for the budget ceiling was at midnight on Oct. 16 from watching the news and talking to my parents, so I was paying more attention that night.”

When the shutdown ended Oct. 17, Hess said she was glad to be able to return to work.  She said it “felt like something was missing” when she wasn’t going to work, and she was happy to get back to projects she was working on.

Although it would mean doing more work and watching less TV, Nehrer said he was also glad to go back.

“The free time was nice,” he said, “but I was getting pretty bored.  I only have 12 credits this semester, and one can only sleep so much.”

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