Hawaii’s affected federal workers feeling no-paycheck pains

  • Scott Pekalib, right, sits with his husband, Jay Pekalib, on Thursday in their Hilo home. Scott Pekalib works for the U.S. Geological Survey and was furloughed because of the partial federal government shutdown. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — It’s been three weeks since Scott Pekalib has been able to go to work.

A Pennsylvania native who has lived in Hilo for almost three years now, he is an administrative operations assistant at the U.S. Geological Survey but has been furloughed since Dec. 21 because of the federal government shutdown.


The shutdown continues as lawmakers and President Donald Trump are at an impasse over Trump’s demand for more than $5.7 billion in funding for his long-promised wall along the southern border with Mexico.

For Pekalib, though, payday is approaching with no pay and money is running out.

Savings were spent on airfares, medicine and hotels after Pekalib’s husband, Jay Pekalib, had to be hospitalized in October following complications from open-heart surgery.

Jay was flown to Honolulu and went into cardiac arrest. He spent several days in an induced coma and the intensive care unit, and has had issues with his kidneys and liver as a result, Scott said Friday from the couple’s apartment in Hilo. Jay also now has problems with gout.

Jay, who sat next to his husband on Friday, did not comment about the furlough.

“The money’s out,” said Scott. “We live paycheck-to-paycheck each week … It’s all gone. And now, to not know when the next time I’m going to be able to get money to buy gas — he’s got to go up to the doctor to have lab work done once a week, and that’s money.

“And yesterday, I turned down a prescription because he has to have his. … The car payment is due, insurance is due next week. The phone bill is past due and this is our only means,” he continued, holding up his cellphone. “I don’t have cable television, I don’t have a (land line) telephone. We just have our (cellphones) that we communicate on and entertain ourselves with. So that’s going to go off. I have no way to communicate with anybody, with his family, with my family. Hopefully the car will wait, and I think my friends and family will help with food until we can get by.”

Scott said the couple has sought assistance from a local organization but didn’t qualify and an application for unemployment benefits, which would have to be repaid after the furlough ends, is pending.

“It’s just such uncertainty that it’s stressful,” he said. “I’m up nights. I can’t sleep. He tells me, ‘you think too much.’ What am I supposed to do? I have to worry to make sure he gets what he needs and what I need.”

When the shutdown was announced, Scott hoped it would be resolved quickly, as it has happened in the past, “but this time that’s not happening and that’s the scariest thing of all.”

“The situation right now, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be any relief any time soon. … It’s hard to express my feelings about just the absolute terror of not being able to provide for myself and for him, and it’s terrifying. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s just absolutely terrifying. It’s cruel. … It’s just cruel to do (this) to people, to all of us.”

When asked if he was surprised that the shutdown has continued as long as it has, Scott paused.

“Three years ago, I would have said absolutely. Today I’m not surprised.”

Should the shutdown continue, his next steps are unclear.

“With the employment situation here on the island, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Scott said. There’s little chance to find a replacement job that would meet the couple’s needs and Jay is unable to work.

“I just have to wait and hope and pray that somebody comes to their senses and stops this.”


“It doesn’t matter whether you’re Democrat or Republican,” Pekalib said. “We’re Americans and we shouldn’t sit back and let 800,000 fellow Americans suffer because our government can’t come together on an agreement.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

  1. LOL in Kona January 13, 2019 6:29 am Reply

    YOU should pay more for things like water, sewer, folk moving to Hawaii, other folk’s medical, retirement, raises, etc, etc etc
    After all, YOU have so much YOU should share
    with the leeches, loafers, druggies, etc
    so they can kick back, relax, etc.

  2. Old Man January 13, 2019 7:23 am Reply

    The corrupt politicians refuse to correct the rules and regulations that allow this to happen. If congress was fined every for every day this situation went on this bs would come to a screeching halt.
    $100,000 for the first day, $200,000 the second day, and so on.

  3. ghost January 13, 2019 8:27 am Reply

    Did the people featured in this story is about vote for Schatz & Hirono? If so, they made their own bed. I can sympathize with recovering from open heart surgery, the incision pain is shattering. However if you vote for Democrats, this HELL is your just reward.

  4. Francesco Zerilli January 13, 2019 12:19 pm Reply

    I spent a lifetime as an employee of a Tier 1 supplier to the auto industry and it was filled with both temporary and indefinite layoffs. Never once did the MSM consider our job losses worth reporting on. So what makes these government employees, who are likely experiencing the first layoffs in their lives, so important and more relevant than the people in the private sector? If the MSM wants an end to these temporary layoffs, then demand PELOSI AND SCHUMER APPROVE THE SPENDING FOR THE WALL!!!!!

    1. CongressWorksForUs January 13, 2019 12:52 pm Reply

      The news found a pity story… for every one of these there will be several who saw this coming and planned accordingly.

      This is a time for the Hilo and/or LGBT community to help these people; it is not up to the government to do so. People, pitch in and help your neighbors… it’s what Americans do.

  5. William Williams January 13, 2019 1:08 pm Reply

    With the Trump economy you should be able to pick up something pretty quick to tide you over till the democrats come to their senses and vote for border security.

  6. Tako January 13, 2019 2:25 pm Reply

    While I sympathize with these two, it’s hard to feel sorry when the article put in the statement about applying for unemployment that would need to be repaid…………….

    Uh, like it shouldn’t once the full amount your are owed in in your checking account?

    Always about something for free

  7. Chickie Galore January 13, 2019 4:42 pm Reply

    I’m sorry, did anyone give a sheet when Hawaii county furloughed its workers? And the DWS followed (even thought they did not need to) and furloughed their employees as well? And his federal health benefits don’t cover his husband as that is not part of the shutdown? And isn’t the one on disability(SSI)? Furloughed employees did not get unemployment before so I am so confused by the whole article? What did they omit from this article to make it seem that the shutdown is responsible for everything? I juss don know?

  8. numbah10 January 13, 2019 5:40 pm Reply

    What was WHT’s thinking of why they chose two hom-sexuals for this article? Supposed to tug at liberal’s heartstrings, or what?

    You know they had an ulterior motive.

  9. Buds4All January 13, 2019 5:57 pm Reply

    Welcome to what we in da private sector deal with regularly. Its life not everyone gets a trophy!

  10. Chickie Galore January 13, 2019 7:18 pm Reply

    Libs dont pay, they take!

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