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AP Photos: Furloughed government worker juggles odd jobs

January 24, 2019
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Chris George, a federal employee furloughed from his job as a forestry technician supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, takes a short break while working as a handyman to make ends meet Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, in Fontana, Calif. "I have a lot of pride, so asking for help is difficult for me. It's very difficult for me because I'm always the one giving back or putting myself before anybody else," said George. "Now, here I am in the situation where I'm the one that is in need." (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

HEMET, California (AP) — Furloughed U.S. Forest Service worker Chris George has never been busier.

He scrambles daily to do handywork and small remodeling jobs at homes in the hardscrabble desert town of Hemet, east of Los Angeles. In between, he works for Lyft, spending up to 10 hours in the car just to make $100.

When he’s not doing that, he is on the phone, trying to save his credit standing — now threatened thanks to the Dec. 22 government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, which has left 800,000 federal workers without pay.

Many of them are dipping into savings, borrowing from friends and family and relying on payment deferments and plans as the shutdown heads into its second month.

George, a forestry technician supervisor who has worked for the U.S. Forest Service for more than two decades doing forest fire management, was never one to be caught off guard. He used to always have two months of funds saved for emergencies. But last year he bought a home after going through a divorce and any money he made since then has gone toward remodeling it.

He never anticipated he would be left without a paycheck for this long.

George received his last paycheck Dec. 29. His monthly check of about $267 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is still coming but it doesn’t cover much. Besides his mortgage payment, he is struggling to keep up with his car payment, utility bills and to buy food.

On a recent day, George fixed a bathroom sink at the home of a friend, who also hired him to install a gas stove, two toilets and hang a dozen blinds.

When he got done with the sink, he called a company that he heard was hiring driving instructors to schedule an interview. Then he grabbed a meal at Ramano’s Macaroni Grill, which offered government workers free spaghetti and meatball dinners.

He also picked up his first unemployment check in the form of an ATM card.

That was tough for the 48-year-old Army National Guard veteran who has spent his life serving his country and helping others. His patriotism is evident in his new home, where a painted American flag hangs on the wall.

“My rebuttal to the president every time he puts out a tweet is to flash my GoFundMe account. That’s my rebuttal to his comments that are absolutely outrageous,” George said. “Here we are being pawns for an agenda of a wall.”

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Watson reported from San Diego. Michelle R. Smith in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.

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