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A week into government shutdown, ire turns to fear for Federal workers

[NEW YORK] When the government shutdown began a week ago, many federal workers were more irked than anxious.

They're really anxious now. What at first seemed like ho-hum political brinkmanship is looking more like a prolonged, punishing shutdown, more akin to the 27-day funding lapse in 1995 and 1996 than the blink-and-miss-it shutdowns earlier this year.

"This one feels different," said Celia Hahn, a Transportation Security Administration officer at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport, who is working without pay and worried about her mortgage and her son's orthodontic expenses.

"If it were to go about two weeks, that's when people would start panicking."

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Dena Ivey, a furloughed probate specialist in the Anchorage office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, lost many of her possessions during the recent Alaska earthquake, and feels overwhelmed by the man-made disaster now afflicting her family.

"We're sort of being held hostage in the middle, and we have families and obligations," said Ms Ivey, a single mother. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to make rent."

She added: "I'm basically living on credit now."

On Thursday, the federal Office of Personnel Management posted a link to a document that offered tips to federal workers on weathering a lengthy interruption, including suggestions on how to defer rent payments, or even barter with landlords by offering to perform minor repair work.

Some charitable groups are attempting to fill the breach.

The nonprofit Coast Guard Mutual Assistance is helping out lower-ranking members, offering US$550 to married members and US$350 to single Coast Guard members who need help paying for food or overdue bills. If all 21,000 members who are eligible for the aid request it, that would cost some US$12 million.

Anxieties are highest for the 800,000 federal workers furloughed or forced to work without pay. But the fear is spreading.

Joel Berg, chief executive of Hunger Free America, a national advocacy group for nonprofits that manage federal food programmes for the poor, said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, would likely be fine.

But other programmes — including Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, which provides aid to states — could see supply-chain interruptions if the shutdown drags on.