As Congress Bickers, Maryland Waits


101113_congress_bickersFor Leah Goldberg, a human resources employee with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the government shutdown feels a lot like a snow day that just won’t end.

“I’m just kind of sitting and waiting,” said Goldberg.

On Monday, Sept. 30, she and her coworkers were told to report to the office on Tuesday to close up shop for the time being. At first, she said, she was a little excited to have some time off. Now though, the excitement has turned to boredom, as she watches the news waiting to hear of any developments and calls a hotline every morning to see if she can return to work.

While there is a perception that some government employees are lucky, that they have time off to go on vacation and relax on the taxpayer’s dime, she said, that could not be further from the truth. Instead, Goldberg is saddled with a lot of free time and little to do but worry about her finances and the backlog of work that piles onto her office desk with each passing day.

“I don’t have the money to spend to go on trips,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be great to go and visit my sister in Houston? But I don’t have that kind of cash available. Now I have to really think: ‘OK, well, which of my debtors am I going to have to call to let them know that, you know, my paycheck is going to be late?’”

Like Goldberg, the Baltimore area — and the rest of the country — is sitting in a state of suspension, waiting to see what happens next.

On Saturday, the fifth day of the government shutdown, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would reimburse furloughed federal government employees, but if the bill goes into effect, those workers won’t see that money until after the shutdown ends. With no signs of either side backing down, that could be weeks or even months from now.

With furloughed federal employees beginning to file for unemployment benefits, the Baltimore Metro South Claim Center has enacted a system as part of its hotline that informs those furloughed employees seeking to file a claim to do so online and warns them that the wait may be lengthy before their claim is processed due to the high volume of requests.

At Jewish Community Services, Tracy Paliath, director of economic services, said her agency is preparing to step in to help community members affected by the government shutdown.

“We want to make sure that we here at JCS are ready to stand by and help in emergencies if people are having delays in receiving employment benefits,” she said.

Congressman John Sarbanes (District 3) said the effect of the shutdown is especially significant in Maryland.

“There’s no question that this shutdown has a heavy impact on Maryland because of the number of federal employees in Maryland,” Sarbanes said, citing sources that say the state is losing about $15 million every day the federal government remains shut down. “Obviously we’re very close to the effects of a government shutdown, we always are, and certainly the members of the Maryland delegation are working as hard as we can to get this fixed.”

In the meantime, Goldberg and other federal government employees remain in waiting, as they watch Congress quarrel and point fingers.

“I want to get back to my life,” she said. “I want to get back to serving the people that I serve.”

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter

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