In Their Words: Stories Of 3 Northern Coloradans Struggling Through The Shutdown

Jan 18, 2019

Colorado is far from Washington, D.C., but impacts of the partial government shutdown are hitting the state's workforce.

More than 2,000 federal workers in Colorado have applied for unemployment since the shutdown began last month. Most are in Jefferson County, but a large concentration also work in Boulder, Larimer and Weld Counties.

KUNC has been asking for your stories. This week we heard from three individuals in northern Colorado. These are their experiences, in their own words.

Isabella Oleksy, research ecologist at Colorado State University.
Credit Matt Bloom / KUNC

Isabella Oleksy
Research ecologist at Colorado State University


My name is Isabella Oleksy. I'm a research ecologist at Colorado State University and I'm working on my doctorate in the ecology program. I spend my summers in Rocky Mountain National Park collecting data on water quality and algae.

I am kind of in a unique situation. Although I'm a PhD student, my salary comes from the federal government. I'm a student contractor through the United States Geological Survey. And so, during the government shutdown, I'm not getting paid and I likely won't receive back pay as a federal contractor.

While I'm continuing to do the work I need to do to advance my doctorate and get my degree, it's pretty disheartening and honestly morale is low for me and people like me who are in a similar situation at CSU.

Classes start at CSU next week. This semester, I have a light teaching load but I'm not getting paid for it, which is messed up. I'm not really sure what's going to happen with that.

Erin Berryman, federal contractor for the U.S. Forest Service.
Credit Val Mosley

Erin Berryman
Federal contractor for the U.S. Forest Service


My name is Erin Berryman and I'm a federal contractor for the United States Forest Service.

Since I'm a contractor, it is a little different for me. We are not allowed to work on the contract during this shutdown.

Instead of taking leave without pay right away, my company is having me take up all my saved vacation time to get through this so I can still have a paycheck. Now that I've used up all my vacation time, I'm looking at taking leave without pay next and I will have to file for unemployment.

When that happens, I'm going to have to also pay for my health insurance premium out of pocket. A big downside of using up my all my vacation time is that I'm having to cancel vacations that I had planned to take later in the year.

Our savings is going to take a big hit when I go on unemployment. My husband and I have a mortgage, two car payments and we both still owe student loans. I feel helpless. I don't feel like it's fair that we have to suffer and I don't think it's right to expect federal employees and contractors to always be prepared to be out of work like this.

David Merritt, full-time riparian ecologist for the USDA Forest Service.
Credit Luke Runyon / KUNC

David Merritt
Riparian ecologist for the USDA Forest Service


I'm a riparian ecologist for the USDA Forest Service — the national stream and aquatic ecology center is where I work in Fort Collins.

I was in the middle of several projects developing in stream flow water management plans for national forests, wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers. I have projects on the Snake River in Wyoming and in the Sky Island Wildernesses in Arizona. Most of this work — all of this work — has ground to a halt.

We've been told we cannot work even on a volunteer status, so I've filled my time by doing community service for a local therapeutic horseback riding center. I've worked on a some personal home improvement projects. Done some hobby work. And tended to work on family business during this time.

I feel remorse that the vital jobs of many of the public servants who work for the federal workforce are not recognized by the public or by the decision makers as essential services.

It's really difficult because we have a timeline required by congress to file water rights for these streams to protect their outstandingly remarkable values and wilderness values and free functions to society. Basically those projects are all mothballed right now.

These responses have been edited for length and clarity.