Mallory Lorge, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes, is forced to ration her insulin and look at her possessions to decide what she can sell to pay down her bills because she isn’t receiving a paycheck during the record-long government shutdown.
Lorge, who lives in the small town of River Falls, Wisconsin, said she has two vials of insulin left in her fridge, but she is rationing them because she can no longer afford the $300 copay.
Her blood sugar rose to a high level last week, but she said she felt forced to ignore it. Instead, she went to bed.
“When it gets that high you can go into diabetic ketoacidosis, you can go into a coma,” she said. “I can’t afford to go to the ER. I can’t afford anything. I just went to bed and hoped I’d wake up.”
Before all this, the future appeared bright for Lorge, who works for the Department of Interior. She married a man she adored in September, made plans with her husband to buy a bigger house for a potential family and had ambitions to become a park ranger someday.
But soon after returning from her honeymoon, Lorge, 31, fell ill with double pneumonia and had to be hospitalized for sepsis and respiratory failure. Because her medical condition was complicated by her diabetes, she went on medical leave and put her plans on hold.
Then on Dec. 22, she and her husband, who works for a tool-making company, received two more financial punches: the government partially shut down and the first of her medical bills arrived. Lorge and her husband were forced to consolidate their debt in a $40,000 loan, and she canceled all her medical appointments.
The couple expect to have to make their first loan payment next week, even though they’ve spent all their savings and the money they received as wedding gifts. Her husband is working overtime to make ends meet but has been told those hours may dry up.
“It’s like being held hostage,” Lorge said. “I’ve been a federal employee for six years, and I love it. I don’t get paid much, but I love working for the American people. That the government has put us in this position is like a punch in the gut.”
Lorge said she and her husband probably can afford to make ends meet for three or four more weeks. After that, she said she isn’t sure what might happen. The couple applied for unemployment but haven’t received word back yet.
Lorge is among the more than 800,000 employees affected by the government shutdown. Many have been put on furlough or forced to work without pay because of an impasse between President Donald Trump and Congress over appropriating $5.7 billion for the construction of a wall along the southern border.
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On Friday, many federal employees received their first paycheck that read $0.00. That financial reality has put many in a position of having to apply for assistance.
The Department of Labor reported on Thursday that 4,760 federal workers applied for unemployment in the final week of December. That’s a more than 500 percent increase from the previous week, when there were only 929 claims.
The number is expected to climb in January, and food banks are reporting a growing need by federal workers who aren't getting paid.
“We are already seeing an impact on families and individuals needing food who are experiencing hardship due to the shutdown,” said Kate Leone, chief government relations officer for Feeding America, in a statement. “We anticipate further need as furloughed federal employees and contractors miss paychecks in the absence of a resolution, and the impact on household budgets could continue for many months after the loss of funds.”
Most Americans are only one paycheck away from difficult financial circumstances.
With housing and car payments, credit card debt and medical bills, lost income can mean uncertainty for most households across the nation.
But the shutdown isn’t just affecting individual pocketbooks.
The ongoing political battle will soon cost the government more money than the $5.7 billion price tag Trump has attached to the border wall. CNBC reported Friday that an S&P Global Ratings estimate concluded that if the shutdown continues two more weeks, it will have cost the U.S. economy more than $6 billion.
But for Lorge and her husband, the price tag of this ongoing battle is their lives and the ability to afford a family.
“You got hopes and dreams and then stuff like this kind of puts it on the back burner now," she said. "My husband and I were talking and saying, ‘Let’s just worry about each day. We can’t worry about our dreams now.’”