Prince George’s County businesses and residents say they are feeling the brunt of the federal government shutdown, as about 16 percent of the county’s workforce — about 72,000 residents — are federal employees.
“As long as this shutdown continues, it’s going to adversely affect our business community,” said Andre Rogers, chairman of the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce.
The shutdown began Tuesday after the Republican-majority U.S. House of Representatives and the Democrat-majority U.S. Senate failed to agree on any spending bills for fiscal 2014. Federal agencies have closed and sent most workers, besides military personnel, home indefinitely without pay.
Fourteen federal agencies have offices in Prince George’s, according to a Maryland State Archives website.
“This region is particularly vulnerable because it’s so close to the nation’s capital. We are going to see a much more significant impact on this area than others,” said Scott Peterson, a spokesperson for County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, adding he didn’t know how long the shutdown would have to last to directly affect county government operations.
The federal government spends nearly $3 billion per year on salaries and wages in the county, or $12 million per day, according to a statement Baker released Monday. If the shutdown lasted five days, the county would lose $1.4 million in income tax revenues, a “minimal” loss compared to the $500 million in income taxes the county takes in each year, according to the release.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Robert H. Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt sent about 3,300 of its 3,400 employees home Tuesday without pay, said Ed Campion, a spokesperson for the flight center, who was also furloughed.
Campion said he doesn’t know when he will get back to work or when the center will reopen.
“Until the government has money, until NASA has funding,” he said.
Many restaurants that offer lunch near federal facilities in the county, like a Subway on Greenbelt Road, a few miles from the flight center, reported fewer customers Tuesday.
Subway served 150 customers that day, half as many as it normally would, said Subway employee Mauricio Pacheco.
The last time the government shut down was in 1996 for three weeks, said Peterson. Federal workers were eventually reimbursed, however contractors were not, and it is unclear whether employees will be paid this time around, said Jennifer Huergo, spokeswoman for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal technology agency located in Gaithersburg.
“The shutdown will have a disproportionate impact on children in the Maryland area because so many parents are employed by the government,” said Molly McCloskey, campaign director of the Maryland No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit partnering with the state to give children access to meals.
The last time the government shut down, McCloskey said she was working as an elementary school counselor in Prince George’s.
“I know very much from personal experience the kind of stress the families were seeing because the kids were in my office,” she said, adding Prince George’s has the second highest percentage of students in the state eligible for free and reduced lunches, a federally-funded program made available to children from low-income families.
Joint Base Andrews in Camp Springs sent home 10 percent of its workforce, 1,500 civilian employees, said base spokesperson Eric Sharman, who was also furloughed and lives on the base with his wife and three children.
“What can you do?” he said. “You start tightening your belt and planning to go without pay.”
Staff Writer Kate S. Alexander contributed to this report.