Until this week.
Since being furloughed, Hitchcock has been looking for as many photography gigs as possible. He hopes to make up even a little of the gap in his cash flow.
"It's going to be very, very difficult, very, very tight these next few weeks," he said. "I've been thinking of selling my car to get by." The car insurance premiums for his 2010 Mazda is high, and so is his rent in Washington's Chinatown neighborhood.
"It's not a forced vacation," said Hitchcock, 38. "It's a temporary layoff."
He joined his coworkers for lunch at one of the many D.C. restaurants offering specials for federal employees this week. Still, he said, "It's hard to think about fun things to do when you're stressed about how long it is going to take to get your job back."
Hitchcock works for the Rural Achievement Program, which gives federal grants to thousands of poor and rural school districts across the country. The program was designed so these districts could be helped directly based on eligibility, without asking them to compete with larger, richer districts. Hitchcock said their grants are small but meaningful. "I think the job I do is important."
What will he do tomorrow? "I guess keep freshening up my resume."
Anderson noted she is planning to use this time to work on a manuscript and "hopefully being productive" while "trying to stay positive."
"Obviously, I believe the work I am doing is important, or I wouldn't be doing it," she said.
As a paralegal in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, she helps attorneys with discrimination cases. "A lot of my work involves making sure people with disabilities aren't segregated. They're not institutionalized. They're not kept away from the community," she said.
But like almost all of her coworkers, she was sent home, leaving open cases in limbo. "I can't do anything to help people who are struggling, who are being discriminated against. For what, you know?"
Schneider started her job three years ago after graduating from college. Now, she's worried about paying her bills.
"In some ways it makes me really mad at myself for not being better at saving," she said. "But, you know, this my first job out of college. I've been working there for three years. It's a federal government job. I am not paid extravagantly."
Still, Schneider considers herself one of the lucky ones, because she can "lean on people" to help with rent and her $170-a-month student loan payments.
"If I need to get money together for rent I will be able to do it. It won't be easy," she said. "It's just not true for everyone I work with."
On the second day of her temporary layoff she went on a bike ride and joked about applying for jobs with "a more reasonable employer." But more than anything, she just frustrated: "I just don't know why I'm being punished."
"Some people are going to be hurting sooner, others are going to be hurting a bit after the point at which I will be, but yes, of course I'm worried."