3-Week Funding Bill Gives One Maryland County's Federal Workers Little Reason For Optimism
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Howard County, Md., is home to roughly 50,000 federal employees and government contractors. County officials estimate the government shutdown affected at least 10 percent of the people who live there. And as member station WYPR's Rachel Baye reports, the three-week funding agreement that Washington, D.C., political leaders reached yesterday gives many of those federal workers little reason for optimism.
RACHEL BAYE, BYLINE: Blue tote bags filled with fresh fruit and vegetables and dry goods lined tables at the Bain Senior Center in Columbia, Md. They were waiting for federal employees who hadn't seen a paycheck in more than a month. Howard County officials had bags for the first hundred federal workers who walked in the door Friday afternoon. Within an hour, the bags were gone. Just before the giveaway began, news came that Congress and the president had agreed to fund the government for three weeks. But for many of the people here, it didn't bring much hope.
SUSANA DOUGLAS: The fact that it's only three weeks doesn't really make things - you know, they might be in the same position in three weeks.
BAYE: Susana Douglas is an engineer at NASA. This shutdown hit her family's finances hard.
DOUGLAS: I mean, we're probably going to miss a mortgage payment if I don't get paid soon, so I don't like being in this kind of position.
BAYE: She says she just started working for the government about a year ago, something she thought would be more stable than the private sector. But now she and her husband are trying to protect themselves from the next shutdown.
DOUGLAS: Just try to work more on building a savings, you know, is something that we always talk about. And, you know, things happen, and you just - you always seem to dip into it. But I feel like we really need to get more serious about really having a savings, so we don't end up in a position like this.
BAYE: For Demille Richardson, who works for the Department of Agriculture, the best way to protect herself and her 6-year-old son from a future shutdown might be to find a new job.
DEMILLE RICHARDSON: I mean, you know, I spend a lot of my time putting out applications back in the private sector. I came from the private sector. This is my first government job, and it's making me want to go back to the private - and I took - you know, I took a pay cut.
BAYE: She says she spent years unemployed, relying on government for assistance. That's what inspired her to take a government job.
RICHARDSON: Quite frankly, I saw the help I got when I wasn't working, and I felt I should be giving back. And now they've taken that altruism away from me.
BAYE: She says she spent some of the last 35 days submitting job applications. Many of the people who came here to get groceries say they have never needed help like this before. For Bridget Michaelson, an analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, coming here and waiting in line for food is hard.
Are you OK?
BRIDGET MICHAELSON: (Crying) Not completely. I just never thought I would have to be looking for someone to help me with groceries. It's - but staying strong.
BAYE: She says the end of the shutdown gives her some hope. At least she'll get paid. But, like so many others here, she says the shutdown could also push her to find a new job. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Baye in Columbia, Md.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.