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    Posted October 14, 2013 by
    Mllekiki
    Location
    Juneau, Alaska
    Assignment
    Assignment
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Shutdown over: What next?

    Back to the Lower 48?

     

    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Mllekiki told me, 'While the government shutdown is impacting all Americans in some way, this is affecting my colleagues and me directly. When I saw the opportunity to speak out and share my personal story through iReports yesterday I felt it was something I needed to do. While my story is one of many, it is relevant and a reflection of our society on many levels.'
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    My name is Christine Gerlock; I am an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader in Juneau, AK. I work for the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. I arrived in Juneau on August 11th (which was also my birthday), to serve here for a year. I love the work I am doing and the natural beauty of Alaska, but I may have to return to the lower 48-Pennsylvania specifically-if the government shutdown continues. I am not unique in this situation; AmeriCorps members across the country are affected and wonder what will happen next.

    There are six VISTAs I advise in Southeastern Alaska.Two are still being paid because they fall under a cost share program while the other four (and myself) are showing up to work while our paychecks are being put into accrual. Last week all VISTAs received a paycheck of 64% from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). In order to alleviate our financial difficulties, some of our site agencies have offered us loans while this fiasco continues. (These loans will be paid back when we receive our paychecks) Unfortunately, the money to loan us is finite. Some of us may have to leave the communities we are serving because of a financial hardship that is not of our making.

    As VISTAs we signed up for a year of living at the poverty level. In return, we receive a bi-weekly stipend and are eligible for food stamps. We have basic health care, life insurance, and a $5500 education award (which we are taxed, so how is that an award?). We are not permitted to have a second job to supplement our income. If the wages are so crappy you may ask why do we do this? Everyone has their personal reasons for serving but a commonality would be the desire to make the world a better place. While this may sound trite and idealistic, it is the truth.

    The shutdown may force me to return home. While I would love to see my family and friends, my job here would be left unfinished. I would be returning to a community where there are nightly shootings and/or stabbings. Unemployment is high there (which is one of the reasons I left-I couldn't find a job) so I would be returning to a less than ideal situation where the education I worked so hard for would go to waste. (I double majored in Women's Studies and Anthropology)

    While these are real life problems, my bill collectors do not care what kind of crisis I am having-they want their money. I have no problems paying my bills, but I need to have money in which to pay them.

    Here is an example: when the shutdown began, I proactively phoned one of my credit card companies to find out if they had a plan in place to assist federal workers affected by the shutdown. I was informed no plan was in place.My two options were to skip a month of paying my bill which would be forgiven since I have been with them for a long time. No late fees or APR increases would occur. (What happens the next month then?) The other option given to me was to apply for their hardship program. It can only be applied for after my payment is late. The monthly payment would be reduced (by only $30) and my account closed. I have always been in good standing with this company and have been with them for over ten years. Once again, this is not something I caused.

    There are more examples I could give but the bottom line is this: because of the government's inability to problem solve and get along, my future and those of my colleagues is being negatively impacted. We have worked hard to graduate college, serve our communities, and improve the lives of those around us.

    For us hand-to-mouth is a reality unlike those in Congress who are "giving up" their paychecks during the shutdown. (those who donated to food banks-great-since federal workers will have need of them) They had a choice in deferring their paychecks, we did not.
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