Layoffs and curtailed services in wake of budget impasse have some Minnesotans angry, others fearful.
On Friday, the day Rob Yaeger was laid off from his job because of the state government shutdown, he set aside his last paycheck for rent and began calculating how much of his savings he'd have to tap to pay the bills.
Yaeger, a 53-year-old training coordinator for the state Department of Health, figures he can survive financially for two months, but is prepared to leave Minnesota to look for work if the shutdown lingers.
"There wouldn't be anything else for me here," said Yaeger, a state resident of 23 years. "And I can't believe I'm the only person in that position."
For many of the 23,000 state workers already living paycheck to paycheck, Friday's layoffs and somber start to a historic state government shutdown filled them with frustration, fear and fury at politicians unable to resolve bitter differences over a $5 billion state budget deficit.
As many struggled to come to grips with the layoff, shutdown effects rippled across the state, affecting everybody from history buffs and horse racing fans to zoogoers, campers and rush-hour commuters.
"I'm disgusted," said Susan Lommen, a Brainerd quilt shop owner whose husband, a 61-year-old State Lottery employee, was laid off Friday. "I feel that our representatives and state senators were sent there to do their job. In anybody's book, this is a failure."
Few felt the impact of the shutdown more profoundly than state workers, who had been bracing for weeks for the possibility of layoffs.
Some families have nixed summer vacation plans. Others have slashed spending or have begun scoping out other jobs.
"My frustration and my anger are very, very high," Yaeger said. "In the near future, we move to rage."
Yaeger, who has stocked his freezer with canned goods and meat, said jokingly that he's now accepting free dinner invitations from friends.
"Now I'm wondering when I'm going to go back [to my job] and how much of my savings to cut back on," he said. "You don't know how long you'll need each dollar."
In Coon Rapids, Mike and Heidi Mendiola were reeling Friday from their fourth layoff in five years.
The couple were prepared to file for bankruptcy six months ago until Mike snagged an engineering job with the state Department of Public Safety. Now, they're back in the same precarious position.
"When I woke up today, I said, 'All right, day one, here we go again,'" Heidi Mendiola said. "We've been through this before. We can make it this time."
The couple started the day by pulling their 2-year-old from day care. For a time, he'll stay at Mike's parents' house to help save money. Meanwhile, Heidi has set aside her "dream job" as a self-employed photographer to seek a second job.
Jennifer deFiebre, 60, of North Branch, also has begun looking for work even though she recently suffered a heart attack. Her husband and son both lost jobs at the state Department of Commerce on Friday. With student loans and a home mortgage to pay off, the family is considering deferring bill payments, skimping on groceries and canceling summer travel to save money.
"Today is really tough," DeFiebre said. "It's a torturous wait-and-see with not a whole lot of optimism."
As state workers adjusted to the unwelcome day off, other Minnesotans woke Friday to find many state services and programs cut or closed.
Rest areas on interstate highways were closed, and many construction projects were suspended. Electronic signs on interstate highways warning drivers of a crash went dark, and closed-circuit traffic monitoring cameras were shut off.
'Do your best' on roadways
MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said drivers will need to react more quickly to traffic jams and accidents, to fend for themselves if their vehicles break down and to stop depending on rest stops.
Highway helper trucks also won't be available to help motorists in distress or provide traffic assistance to state troopers at accidents. The State Patrol isn't planning to work overtime.
"If you get into trouble on the roadway, you need to do your best to get your vehicle off the road and you need to call 911," Gutknecht said.
History buffs, outdoors enthusiasts and sports fans also felt the impact. All 26 sites run by the Minnesota Historical Society closed. State parks shut down.
Nevertheless, some vacationers and hikers bypassed park barriers. So many descended on the scenic Gooseberry Falls State Park along Lake Superior's North Shore that by midday the road near the park entrance was filled with parked cars.
In Shakopee, business owners lamented the loss of jobs and potential customers with the closing of Canterbury Park, one of the city's largest employers.
"Everyone is frustrated and confused about how all the decisions are being made," said Brad Tabke, chairman of the Shakopee Chamber of Commerce.
John Munkelwitz, manager of the America's Best Value Inn & Suites near Canterbury, where many trainers and racing enthusiasts stay, expects business to drop by 10 percent if the shutdown persists. By Friday afternoon, about a dozen reservations for the July 4th weekend had been cancelled.
Prior Lake residents Bjorn and Jessica Anderson scrapped plans to go to the track for races and fireworks. Their other favorite south metro amenity -- the Minnesota Zoo -- isn't an option either.
"We got a season pass to the zoo this year," Bjorn said, noting that their inconvenience is modest compared to the shutdown's effects on others. "It's just very disappointing."
Shelters, child care affected
Social service agencies also felt the pinch.
In Ramsey County, cuts in state aid could jeopardize funding for child care providers for 900 families.
In Dakota County, the shutdown claimed an emergency shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Nonprofit 360 Communities closed its Lewis House shelter in Hastings, laying off nine staffers when money stopped flowing from the state's Office of Justice Programs.
One family at the shelter moved to the Lewis House in Eagan, which will stay open thanks to an anonymous $100,000 donation.
In a letter to supporters, 360 Communities CEO Mary Ajax said the agency regretted closing the Hastings shelter and noted that "it will reopen as soon as the state budget is resolved."
Meanwhile, food shelf operators across the state scrambled to get food to those who need it.
Early Friday, it appeared that about 950,000 pounds of free ground beef, chicken, vegetables and other food from the federal government stored in the Second Harvest Heartland food bank warehouse in St. Paul would stay in storage, in part because of the layoff of a state employee. By Friday afternoon, however, the employee was called back to work, allowing the food to be distributed.
Greater Twin Cities United Way said it will advance about $2.5 million to 26 nonprofit agencies to help them survive until state coffers reopen.
"They serve Minnesotans who have some of the greatest needs," said Frank Forsberg, the United Way's senior vice president for community impact. The money, to be paid July 15, equals the amount the agencies would have received for July through September. Forsberg said several other funders and foundations plan to take similar action to blunt the harm to poor and disadvantaged people by the government shutdown.
"That payment will be a pretty big deal for us," said Byron Laher, president of Community Emergency Assistance Program in Brooklyn Park. "We don't have any direct state or federal contracts, but we have 13 grants and contracts dependent on state or federal money, and we haven't heard what we'll get. Every day the story keeps changing. The United Way money is about 15 percent of our budget, so that will help -- at least for a while."
Even so, he was instructed by the state this week to stop several programs, including one that offers modest help to prevent renters from being evicted. He's begun compiling a waiting list so he can swing into action when the shutdown ends and state programs resume.
firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-4141 email@example.com • 612-673-4425 firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-673-7253 Staff writers Pat Doyle, Katie Humphrey, Rochelle Olson, Tom Meersman and Maria Baca contributed to this report.