Devastated by one shutdown, dreading the next

Ibarra, 45, had built her adult life on the principle of self-sufficiency — raising two children by herself, adopting her teenage niece, devoting her career to a government job because it promised meaningful work and 9-to-5 dependability. The salary was modest at about $35,000 a year, so she often stayed late to work overtime. Even when her credit cards were maxed out, she’d been able to make at least the minimum payments. Even if she sometimes needed an extension on her rent, she’d spent 25 years in the same two-bedroom house, where a small sign was posted on a bedroom wall: “Get up and go get it!”

That was the person she had been right up until the government shutdown began at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 22, forcing her to miss one paycheck and then another, leaving her with no income for the first time since she turned 18. Ibarra had been told once during an IRS training that about 60 percent of American taxpayers live paycheck to paycheck and that 40 percent are unable to afford a $400 emergency. Her first emergency had been the missed car payment, which forced her lease into default because she was already behind. Next went her cable. Then came two unpaid credit cards bills and a rent check that was almost three weeks overdue.

She’d tried to fend off bill collectors by selling some of her furniture and asking strangers for help in an online fundraiser. “I’ve always been an independent lady who never needed any help,” she’d written. “I don’t know what to do.”