Furloughed workers sell possessions online out of desperation

Ms Anna Cory, a librarian in Morrisville, North Carolina, who works as a contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency, is running a "Government shutdown online yard sale" on Facebook, where she is selling rare books from the 1800s.

WASHINGTON • A federal worker in West Virginia took to Facebook this week to sell welding tools left behind by his late father-in-law.

Another, a die-hard Star Wars fan in Virginia did the same with a life-size replica of Kylo Ren's lightsaber.

A single father in Indiana hosted a sale on eBay with five pages of items found around the house, including Bibles, Nintendo bed sheets and Dr Seuss neckties.

"Sells for US$93.88 (S$127) at Walmart. Asking US$10," a government worker wrote on a Craigslist ad for a Lulu Ladybug rocking chair. "We need money to pay bills."

As hundreds of thousands of federal workers brace themselves for their first missed pay cheques of the government shutdown this week, many have become immersed in the frantic financial calculus of choosing what they can live without.

In the United States, living pay cheque to pay cheque is disturbingly common, regardless of profession or location.

A recent report from the Federal Reserve revealed how little cushion most Americans have in their budgets: Four in 10 adults say they could not produce US$400 in an emergency without sliding into debt or selling something, according to the figures in a survey of households in 2017.

Ms Anna Cory looks through one of her 1850s-era books in her home in Morrisville, North Carolina. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

But the shutdown, which began just before Christmas, took many federal workers by surprise, and is lasting longer than most expected.

That has left furloughed employees stuck at home, sifting through garages and closets to find possessions and personal treasures to sell.

"You have to take a kind of cold-hearted look at things around you and decide what would be marketable to someone else," said Mr Jay Elhard, on furlough from his job as a media specialist at Acadia National Park in Maine. He started a Facebook group for people to buy items from furloughed federal workers.

Guidance from government offices has provided little comfort so far, some workers said.

No one in Washington seems to know how long the partial government shutdown will go on, but there has been little reason to believe the end is close. Meanwhile, the Office of Management and Budget has provided sparse advice other than encouraging workers to reach out to creditors and mortgage companies before debts become due.

President Donald Trump, when asked about the hardship faced by workers, said federal employees "are on my side".

"You take a look at social media, so many of those people saying, 'It is very hard for me, it is very hard for my family, but Mr President, you are doing the right thing. Get it done.' They are patriots," he said.

If the shutdown extends into next week, it will become the longest continuous closure of the government in US history.

On Thursday, hundreds of furloughed federal employees chanting "We want our pay!" marched on the White House to protest against the shutdown.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2019, with the headline Furloughed workers sell possessions online out of desperation. Subscribe