Hilo couple struggles to make ends meet during partial shutdown

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald 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.

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.

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The shutdown continues as lawmakers and President Donald Trump are at an impasse over Trump’s demands for more than $5 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 in 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 cell phone. “I don’t have cable television, I don’t have a (land line) telephone. We just have our (cell phones) 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.”

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“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.

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