Thursday, April 25, 2024

Their Baby Needs a Ventilator to Breathe—but the Shutdown Made Them Fear for Her Life

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Harper Rachford Allie McKinney and Chris Rachford 1

As days turned to weeks during the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, Kentucky couple Allie McKinney and Chris Rachford, who has worked in data processing for the IRS for six years, worried about having enough money to keep their baby daughter alive.

Despite the shutdown’s temporary end Friday, on day 35, they’re still worrying.

Born at 26 weeks, and spending the first 302 days of her life in the hospital, little Harper’s lungs remain undeveloped. She needs a breathing tube to live, powered by a ventilator hooked up to the electricity in her family’s home.

But wth no money coming in (Rachford was working without pay and McKinney had quit her job in social work to stay full-time with Harper), they feared they could not pay the bill to keep the electricity running for their daughter’s ventilator.

And then there was the rent — and the hundreds of dollars a month required for Harper’s care.

Rachford tells PEOPLE he has “no clue” when he’ll see his next paycheck or the backpay he is owed, and he is anxious there’s soon going to be another shutdown.

President Donald Trump stressed Friday, in the same speech where he announced an end to the historic shutdown, that it was only temporary: If he didn’t get money from Congress for his propose border wall with Mexico — the same demand that led to the funding freeze in the first place — he threatened to close down the government again on Feb. 15 or declare a national emergency.

“It’s scary, it’s stressful,” says Rachford. “I want this thing to be fully over. I’m happy because they have temporarily opened us, but it’s nowhere close to where we need to be. We need a permanent solution.”

Rachford voted for Trump but regrets it. What changed his mind, he says, was “mainly the shutdown and how he’s acted, how he doesn’t seem to care about the people of America.”

“His whole campaign was he was going to make America great again,” Rachford says. “He hasn’t.” (The family’s story was first reported by local TV station WCPO.)

Harper Rachford Allie McKinney and Chris Rachford 2

Harper Rachford Allie McKinney and Chris Rachford 3

Even before the government closed on Dec. 22, the couple struggled to make ends meet on Rachford’s paycheck. “My sister had to buy our groceries in November,” McKinney says. “We weren’t making it day to day.”

Rachford’s last paycheck arrived on New Year’s Eve. He and McKinney have sold off his childhood baseball card collection, Harper’s unused toys and furniture to cover bills.

Friends created a GoFundMe, with more than $18,000 raised as of Sunday night.

“We are very grateful,” Rachford says. “It will help us out tremendously, we will have a roof over our heads.”

Adds an appreciative McKinney: “We didn’t ask for this when we went public, we just wanted people to know that people are actually suffering from the shutdown.”

Rachford, who joined the IRS hoping to put his accounting degree to use with the agency, has no plans — for now — to find other work. “I still love my job,” he says. “It’s been stressful with the shutdown, but I love most of the people I work with. And it’s decent money.”

Nevertheless, says Rachford, “If this keeps happening, I may try to find something different.”

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