Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Jamie Ratliff was invited recently to a family gathering at McCall, Idaho, an event which in normal circumstances she and her husband, Brian, and their two children would likely have attended.

But it’s hardly a normal January for Jamie Ratliff and other federal employees affected by a partial shutdown nearing the one-month mark.

The couple declined the invitation.

Ratliff, who lives in Baker City, said she has missed one paycheck as she waits to be called back to work. Federal employees are paid twice a month.

After the 17-day shutdown in October 2013, Ratliff said she decided to have a “plan B” for the future, including setting aside money.

“We’ll be all right for another month but the uncertainty is stressful,” she said.

Besides turning down the McCall invitation, Ratliff said her family has temporarily ceased eating in local restaurants, going to see a movie and patronizing other local businesses.

“The things you’re able to cut out,” she said. “It has real impacts to our local community.”

Bev Calder, who owns Bella kitchen stores in Baker City and La Grande, said the shutdown has “definitely” affected both of her stores.

Calder said she can think of at least 10 regular customers in each city, who she knows are federal employees, who haven’t shopped for the past few weeks.

“It kind of casts a pall over the whole community,” Calder said.

According to the Oregon Employment Department, about 131 federal workers in Baker County could be going without pay during the shutdown (total federal employment in the county can exceed 200 when seasonal crews are on duty).

The 131 employees represents about 2.3 percent of the county’s total workforce, said Christopher Rich, regional economist for the Employment Department.

Federal salaries are generally higher than the average for Baker County.

In 2017, the last year for which complete data are available, the average federal salary in the county was $62,517. The average salary for all workers in the county that year was $35,760.

Federal salaries range from about $35,000 to about $80,000.

Ratliff said she appreciated that one of her family’s favorite eateries, Sweet Wife Baking, announced in a Facebook post Wednesday that the business was offering a free cookie and coffee or tea to furloughed workers.

As for necessities such as groceries, Ratliff said they’re charging those on a credit card.

Ratliff said on Wednesday that she had considered applying for unemployment but she was waiting to see if President Donald Trump signed a bill guaranteeing furloughed federal workers would be paid for the time they missed.

Trump signed that bill on Wednesday.

Ratliff said that in that case she wouldn’t apply for unemployment because she would have to repay any money she received through that program.

Ratliff said she feels fortunate that her husband works for the Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife, a state agency not affected by the partial federal shutdown.

For some of her friends, though, there is no other source of income either because the only working spouse is a furloughed federal worker, or because both spouses are furloughed.

“Those are the people who are more stressed right now,” Ratliff said.

Willy and Renae Crippen are among the couples who both work for the federal government.

Willy Crippen works for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Baker City, and Renae manages the Blue Mountain Interagency Dispatch Center at the La Grande Airport.

“It’s kind of a double whammy for us because we’re both federal employees,” Willy Crippen said.

That wasn’t the case during one previous shutdown, because Renae wasn’t working for the federal government then.

Although the Crippens, who live in La Grande, have each missed one paycheck, Willy Crippen, a 31-year federal employee, said he was happy that at least they did receive a check a week or so before Christmas.

But the effects of missing even one check — two checks, in the Crippens’ case — arise almost immediately.

For instance, Willy Crippen said most of the couple’s bills are set up to be paid automatically, with the money taken from their account.

They’ve had to curtail that practice temporarily to ensure the bills are paid on time.

“It’s certainly a challenge right now, getting all the bills paid,” Crippen said.

He said he and his wife also try to help her father, who lives on a fixed income in La Grande.

“This doesn’t just impact our household,” Crippen said.

John Quintela, who works as a fisheries biologist for the BLM in Baker City, said the shutdown “is a scary situation because you’re not sure when that next paycheck’s going to come.”

Although his wife, Heidi, does not work for the federal government, Quintela said the family, which includes children ages 13 and 9, has “definitely changed our spending habits.”

“Vacation plans are on hold, and we’re not going out to eat,” Quintela said. “We can’t look too far out now. The bills keep coming.”

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