Beth Newman has been working in the federal government for more than a year but when she arrived at the office early Tuesday morning, it wasn’t because she was eager to get a jump on the day’s work but because she, like tens of thousands of other federal employees, had to sign her furlough papers acknowledging she won’t get paid and isn’t allowed to work until Congress passes an appropriations bill.
“Whatever’s in my bank account is all I have until we get funding again,” the 25-year-old D.C. resident said shortly after leaving the office for the foreseeable future.
Despite the uncertainty she faces, Newman isn’t too despondent yet. It’s still early on in this first government shutdown in 17 years, and she’s already making plans for how to use her time. She planned to attend Sixth & I Historic Synagogue’s event for furloughed employees to relax, play games and commiserate together. The Washington DC Jewish Community Center also is offering discounted tickets to its upcoming literary festival due to the shutdown.
“I’m so glad they are doing that,” she said.
Newman also plans to take advantage of the many offers promoted by local bars and restaurants, ranging from free food to those with a government ID to discounted drinks at some bars. Some of the publicized offers include the caveat that members of Congress are excluded.
Not all federal employees were furloughed on Tuesday. Dovev Hefetz, formerly of Baltimore and now living in Kemp Mill, works in the computer department at the Justice Department where he was told that he will be working at least through the first 10 days of the shutdown.
“We are hopeful that the government figures it out. They have 10 days to figure it out,” said his wife, Shayna.
She is happy that both her husband and her mother, who works for the Veterans Administration, so far have not been furloughed. However, she said, many of her Facebook friends were furloughed on the first day of the federal shutdown.
Maryland State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who is running for governor, noted that “every day the government is shut down, we [the people of Maryland] stand to lose $5 million in revenue. Our families face possible furloughs; our businesses lose sales. “
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, believes it’s too soon to judge how harshly this will affect people. He said that both his organization and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington “are acutely aware that if this becomes prolonged,” that many people will be hurting.
Should that happen, “the Jewish community will mobilize,” Halber said, adding, “Hopefully, this thing will be over in a few days.”
He called Congress’ inability to agree on a budget “an embarrassment” for the whole world. “The bottom line is, we’ll see who cracks first,” he said of the two political parties.
“It’s a travesty and it has grave consequences for lots of people, especially those living paycheck to paycheck,” agreed Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
“It’s going to put a strain on community resources,” he said. “Lots of people treat it like it’s a joke, and it’s not.”
Abramson said the whole world is viewing the U.S. like it is crazy. It could have negative impacts on this country’s foreign policy if other countries do not think of the U.S. as rational, he said, adding, “The world is looking at the U.S. as a banana republic.”
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) is upset that the government seems to go from one crisis to the next without considering the fate of the country’s most vulnerable.
“Because of this dysfunction, the USDA has announced that programs like Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will run out of money, leaving 9 million women and children without nutrition assistance. Head Start, which creates opportunity for children, would also suffer an immediate reduction. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees in each of our communities who will still be expected to meet their financial obligations even as we, as a nation, neglect ours,” wrote JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.
“States can temporarily shoulder extra burdens, but as the days continue, the effects of a government shutdown will grow more serious,” noted JCPA chair Larry Gold.
Alan van Capelle, CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, noted that “for many Americans, a shutdown will bring real, needless suffering that lawmakers in Washington have not bothered to imagine. Make no mistake, shutting down the government would be immoral.”
Although there’s hope the matter can be resolved quickly, possibly even before people have read this article, the uncertainty of the situation exacerbates the stress for community leaders as well as workers like Newman, although in her case she has some small things to look forward to.
“I’m going to get one of the free burgers at Z-Burger,” she said.