ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It's been two weeks since Don Pellico boarded the train from suburban Glen Ellyn to downtown Chicago. Pellico has not been off work by choice. A federal employee with the Small Business Association, Pellico was on furlough. But he was back at his desk this morning, one of 13 SBA employees called back to work in the Chicago office.
DON PELLICO, Small Business Association: (on phone) This is Don Pellico. I am back in the office today, Tuesday, January the 2nd. There is still the official furlough still in existence; however, I am back to work on emergency cases only.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Without a budget, the SBA cannot spend any money, so those trying to get or complete an SBA loan can still not be helped. But the government does want to protect its assets. Pellico's supervisor, Anthony McMahon, says that's why Pellico was called back.
ANTHONY McMAHON, Small Business Association: His job assignment deals with property that's been foreclosed on or being foreclosed on and liquidated, the recovery of dollars for the government that have been made in loans that for one reason or another have failed, and he has caseload that is losing value if it's, if it's not attended to on a regular basis, so--
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Can he make decisions today?
ANTHONY McMAHON: No, but he can--he can recommend some actions that he thinks are, are of particular import, where there is going to be actual loss of value for us, and we can transmit those to Washington for approval.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: As Pellico looked through the mound of paperwork that had built up, he was again angered by the furlough.
DONALD PELLICO: I wish I wasn't playing catch-up, because now I'll be putting out fires, so to speak, for the next couple of weeks, resolving problems that initially weren't there but have become major problems now.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Pellico thought he would be away from his desk even longer, but last Friday, he got the call to return.
DON PELLICO: (Friday on phone at his home) Okay. Working for no pay. Okay.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Carol Pellico was glad to hear that her husband would be back at his job. She at first thought it would mean a fully paycheck and was disappointed to learn that was not the case. With two small children and Christmas bills looming, Carol Pellico was getting nervous.
CAROL PELLICO: (on phone) Actually, I'd like to wait just a little bit. My husband was furloughed from his job for a couple of weeks. You know how that goes, so money's a little bit tight, but--
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: After nine years as a loan officer with the SBA, Pellico makes a little under $50,000 a year, but after paying $1100 a month for the mortgage, $360 a month for the car, preschool payments for four and a half year old Ryan, plus a loan for some home remodeling, the Pellicos have not put much aside for emergencies like this one. What frustrates government employees and their families is a feeling they have so little control over both the budget debate and their own future.
DON PELLICO: It's not the two weeks of, of furlough that worried me and the half paychecks; it's the agency, itself. A lot of people out there have no clue as to what the SBA does, and there are many members of Congress, new members, who have no clue what the SBA does, so when I hear that they want to abolish SBA and they don't really have a background as to what the SBA does, it's frustrating.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: For the moment, both Pellicos are glad Don Pellico is back on the job.
DON PELLICO: We learned that it's better that I work full-time than stay at home.
CAROL PELLICO: I don't think Don was cut out--
DON PELLICO: Well, we've confirmed that fact.
CAROL PELLICO: I don't think Don was cut out to be Mr. Mom.
PATRICIA JACKSON, Health & Human Services: Just in case I didn't know something, you were supposed to point it out to me.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: In another suburban home, government worker Patricia Jackson still waits for a call to return to work. Jackson has worked for 15 years as an administrative officer with the Department of Health & Human Services. A single mother of two, she earns about $35,000 a year and lives from paycheck to paycheck.
PATRICIA JACKSON: Well, I'm really worried about being able to pay my bills, you know, because my children's tuition is due the middle of January, and that's the check that's not going to be coming, and, you know, rent is due next week, car payment, car insurance, all my utilities. I mean, they're up to date, you know, for last month, you know, but they're coming up again.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Jackson cut back on Christmas spending, and she says her two children have felt the impact of the budget crisis.
CHARETTE COX: She isn't working because it's like the President and the Congress people can't come to a mutual decision. Until they do, all the like federal employees aren't gonna, gonna be able to come back until they come to a mutual decision. And I wish they'd hurry up because it's like we used to be able to do more things but now we can't do any things like we used to do, because she is not--she doesn't have a job that much, so we'll go places like we did, but we can't spend as much money as we used to, and we have to watch how we spend it.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Right now, Jackson's biggest concern is her children's Catholic school tuition.
PATRICIA JACKSON: I can probably pay the rent, but the other bills, no, and of course, I'll have to explain to the school why I can't pay their tuition and ask them, well, don't kick 'em out, you know, I'm gonna pay you when I get it.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Jackson says she understands why taxpayers might object to government workers getting a paycheck for not working, but she wishes they would put themselves in her shoes.
PATRICIA JACKSON: Well, then I tell them, well, why don't you try not working, not knowing when your next check is going to come, and see what you feel like, and a lot of people are really mad at the fact that we did get paid the first time, but they have to realize we're human beings, we have children, we have lives, we want them to keep going, and just because this is a political thing but we still need to live, and being government employees, we want to get paid.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Jackson says she has rarely left the house over the holidays, since it costs money every time she walks out the door. She did receive a check today for one week's pay for the week before the shutdown, though deductions were taken out for a full two-week pay period. And neither Jackson or any other government worker know when to expect the next paycheck.