By Alex Lippa
---- — Both of New Hampshire’s U.S. senators have chosen not to be paid during the government shutdown. They join hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are not getting paychecks.
U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H, and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., announced they would donate their entire paychecks to Granite State charities during the shutdown.
For many, forfeiting their pay was not a choice.
“We had heard the rumors,” said Michelle Gauthier, a management and program analyst for the Federal Aviation Administration. “But everything was hush hush. We didn’t know which way it would go.”
But Tuesday morning, Gauthier received the news she dreaded.
Gauthier was labeled a non-essential employee and told not to report to work. She estimated 25 percent of her colleagues in Nashua were furloughed.
“They told us to just sit home and listen for the news,” the Derry resident said. “But it wasn’t clear, so I called my boss to see if I was to come in to work or not.”
The answer was to stay home.
Derry resident Lori Gallant, a customer service representative at the IRS in Andover, also wasn’t given much warning.
“My shift is from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m,” said Gallant, 37. “When I left work, I was just told to call the emergency hotline to see whether to go into work.”
For Gallant, who has worked for the IRS for six years, any length of time without work is a struggle.
“Many of us work paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “We don’t plan on something like this. You think you have a secure job.”
Gallant isn’t the only one in her family on furlough. Her father, Frank Gallant, 61, of Derry also was ordered to stay home from the IRS.
“Right now, we’re just all hoping we can get back to work,” the 10-year employee said. “But all the politicians are just standing by their principle. But that principle doesn’t help me. They are out of touch with the real life of this country.”
Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn of the New Hampshire National Guard said they are down to a “skeleton staff” after 332 military techinicians were furloughed.
“It’s an atmosphere of frustration and anger right now,” Heilshorn said yesterday. “It’s nerve-wracking. These men and women suddenly face the reality of not getting a paycheck and they could be facing real financial hardships if the government remains shut down.”
For Lori Gallant, the uncertainty of when the shutdown will end is the toughest part.
“We’re just sitting and waiting,” she said. “We were told we might be able to get unemployment, but that can only get us so far.”
But unemployment may not cut it for Gauthier.
“I’m concerned it’s going to be too long,” she said. “I’m thinking of applying for something part-time in case this continues, but I have no idea how long it will be.”
In the meantime, she’s worried about more immediate impacts of the furlough.
“I don’t know if my insurance is going to be canceled,” she said. “I don’t know if I will be able to pay for food. It’s scary.”
Shaheen said seeing all the impacted employees led to her decision to donate her paycheck to the New Hampshire Food Bank.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate to take a salary while so many people have been furloughed because of the government shutdown,” Shaheen said. “We need to immediately come together and get the government running again because the consequences of this shutdown are very real for families and small businesses across New Hampshire and the country.”
John Easton, Ayotte’s chief of staff, said she would also be donating her salary to an unnamed New Hampshire charity during the duration of the shutdown.
Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-N.H., said she would donate a portion of her salary to Child and Family Services of New Hampshire and organizations serving veterans and military families.
But her fellow congresswoman, Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., will not be donating her pay.
“My husband and I contribute regularly to good causes,” Shea-Porter said. “We’ll continue to make charitable donations. We have always kept our charitable giving private and will continue to do so.”