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Hundreds of federal workers hit by shutdown turn to GoFundMe to raise money

Federal workers feeling pinch from shutdown
Kansas EPA worker shares struggle to pay bills during government shutdown 05:05

Hundreds of federal employees, contractors, small-business owners and others are going online to raise money to help make ends meet amid a partial government shutdown prolonged by a impasse over President Trump's demand for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

More than 700 accounts have been created on fundraising site GoFundMe related to the shutdown, with a total of roughly $50,000 raised so far, GoFundMe spokeswoman Katherine Cichy told CBS MoneyWatch in an email.

Some of the 800,000 government employees working without pay or on furlough since the shutdown started on Dec. 22, along with thousands of contract workers, are also turning to Twitter using the hashtag #Shutdownstories. Among their most pressing financial needs are making mortgage and rent payments and taking care of basic necessities like food and diapers, according to the GoFundMe campaigns.

Johanna Petrocelli, a NASA safety engineer based in Houston, said she was at the agency during the 2013 government shutdown and saw people struggling to get by. This time around, Petrocelli, 26, has some savings as well as financial support from her family. But she wanted to do something for her colleagues and co-workers who don't have that kind of support. So she set up a GoFundMe page.

They don't "spend beyond their means"

"These aren't people who are irresponsible or haven't saved for emergencies or spend beyond their means," the description for her page, "Feds Who Want to Help," reads. "They're highly educated people who work at NASA. People with PhDs in astrophysics from MIT, flight controllers who keep the International Space Station and astronauts safe day after day. They're also janitors, administrative assistants, facility maintenance, and security guards who work long hours for very little pay."

Shutdowns can also create bureaucratic messes that lead to unexpected consequences. For instance, some new hires haven't received their first paycheck, so they don't have proof of employment to help get an apartment, Petrocelli noted.

"There's women who are sole providers for their family. The janitorial staff is contract and on furlough and probably won't get paid beyond their contract dates. I want to do what I can," Petrocelli said. 

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Julie Burr, a contract worker with the Department of Transportation in Kansas City, Missouri, said on her GoFundMe page that she is "losing pay every day" the shutdown continues. "I've taken on extra shifts at my 2nd job but it isn't going to pay rent and all my bills. Being a single mom, I'm in panic mode right now."

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To guard against scams, GoFundMe set up a team to review shutdown campaigns using "proprietary technical tools" and "multiple processes" to verify organizers and beneficiaries, Cichy said. Before money is transferred, GoFundMe's payment processor also verifies an individual's information, including banking details, she said. 

GoFundMe also guarantees donations. If funds are misused "as determined in our sole discretion," GoFundMe will pay up to $1,000 per donor per campaign, according to the company's policy.

Working without a net

Tyler Fralia, a tax examining technician at the IRS in Ogden, Utah, had some savings until the cost of replacing old tires on the family car drained his account. His wife was on unpaid maternity leave to take care of now six-month old Luke, leaving the family without much of a financial net. He's now searching for temporary work, and has looked into part-time jobs at Domino's and Uber,

In the meantime, Fralia has set up a page on GoFundMe. As of Tuesday night it had yielded about $250. That helps, but it's "not even a car payment," he said.

Although his wife is back at work, Fralia, 28, still worries about the mortgage. And when he's called back to the IRS later this month as the agency promises to begin processing taxes on Jan. 28, it might still be without pay. 

"We want to go back to work," Fraila said. Americans entrust IRS workers to do their job, he said. "It's all we want."

-- CBS News' Irina Ivanova contributed reporting.

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