Furloughed FDA Worker Hits The Streets To Drum Up Extra Cash

Furloughed FDA worker Jonathan Derr drums outside a Washington, D.C., Metro station to earn cash during the government shutdown i i

Furloughed FDA worker Jonathan Derr drums outside a Washington, D.C., Metro station to earn cash during the government shutdown Karen Zamora/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Karen Zamora/NPR
Furloughed FDA worker Jonathan Derr drums outside a Washington, D.C., Metro station to earn cash during the government shutdown

Furloughed FDA worker Jonathan Derr drums outside a Washington, D.C., Metro station to earn cash during the government shutdown

Karen Zamora/NPR

Ten days into the partial government shutdown, the estimated 800,000 furloughed federal workers have got to be feeling a bit stir crazy.

Congress has agreed to pay back the furloughed workers for the time they are shut out of the office, so for some it's like an unexpected, but paid, vacation of indeterminate length. But the more than a week of shutdown definitely means going without that cash in the short term. And for some of those workers with less of a financial cushion, that means getting creative.

To bring in some extra cash, Jonathan Derr, a furloughed writer and editor at the Food and Drug Administration, packed up a makeshift drum set fashioned out of paint buckets and set up outside a Washington, D.C., Metro station. He played alongside his basset hound, Doug, and a sign that read "FURLOUGHED. Throw us a bone."

The money wasn't bad, he says. On the two days Derr went out to drum last week, he made almost double the hourly wage he earns at the FDA.

"It was tax-free, so that was nice," Derr told All Things Considered host Melissa Block. But, he says, it's not exactly a stable salary, and he only played for three hours.

Derr lives with his wife, Ashley, a stay-at-home mother who also teaches stroller exercise classes, in Silver Spring, Md., and their 20-month-old son.

Ashley says they expect Jonathan's paycheck (for the pay period that started just before the shutdown) to be about half of what they usually expect. It's something they can weather, she says, but she looks forward to the next pay period and worries what they'll do if the government remains shut down.

"That will certainly be a financial challenge," she says.

In the meantime, Jonathan says that on top of banging on buckets, he's already sold his Nintendo and video games to drum up some cash. He says a lot of federal workers he knows are feeling pinched by the shutdown.

"Before the shutdown happened, people were living paycheck to paycheck," he says. "It's hard enough to survive with a paycheck, and when you take that away, that's really a problem for people."

Still, there is a silver lining for the Derr family: The unexpected time off means the family gets to spend some unexpected time together, even if it is with what Ashley calls a "rain cloud of worry."

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