- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Although they are victims of the federal government shutdown, local federal workers have not been shut out by the community.
As the U.S. Congress was unable to come to terms that would allow continued funding of the federal government, it essentially shut down at midnight Sept. 30. The shutdown affects all levels, ranging from national parks and monuments to positions at all federal agencies deemed “nonessential.” Workers falling under this category have been furloughed, meaning that for the duration of the shutdown they will not receive any pay.
According to Marcia Keeth with the county’s Department of Economic Development, 33.4 percent of county residents are government employees. There is no breakdown that indicates how many are federal, but it is a “significant amount,” according to the department.
The impact of the shutdown will be hard to figure, according to the department’s information. The impact is largely dependent on the duration of the shutdown, along with the amount of out-of-work federal employees, vendors and contractors who lose business because of the shutdown and the other, unrelated businesses like retail shops and restaurants that lose out on traffic because of the lack of spending.
“Usually our proximity to Washington [D.C.] is a good thing ... but not in this case,” Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said Thursday. “Now I think the negative impact on us will be much greater. The last time this happened was in 1995, and I think this will be worse because we’ve grown much more since then, in part because of the influx of federal workers to this area. Sixty-two percent of our citizens leave every day for work and we know a lot of those are federal employees. At our public forum the other night, a woman said in her remarks, ‘You’re our government, don’t let us down. I’ve already been furloughed by the other.’”
College of Southern Maryland economics and business professor Mike Green wrote Thursday between classes in an email that it was too early to determine the outcome.
“I think it’s too early to see real regional economic effects. However, certainly those federal workers that are not being paid are being forced to alter their decision making calculus regarding spending choices,” Green wrote. “For those that do not have sufficient savings to draw on, their cash flow problem would cause major spending decreases on all non-necessity items. Should this group be of sufficient size and clustered in the same area, then those businesses in that area that depend on this type of spending would feel an immediate negative impact. If this group is relatively small and dispersed geographically, then businesses wouldn’t feel any impact at this time.”
In Washington, D.C., many businesses are offering free and discounted services to the affected federal employees. Although it is not seen on such a wide scale in Charles County, certain offers are available.
At all of its stores, OBO Pizza is offering a discount of half off large pizzas for the duration of the shutdown with the presentation of a valid government ID, owner Joe Gressis said Wednesday.
“We did it to help out in a tough situation. People won’t have the money that they usually do,” Gressis said. “A lot of the people here are government workers, and we’ve seen a lot of government IDs coming in so far. I’m sure that this has been very tough on them.”
In Indian Head, where OBO’s newest store opened in February 2012, the store is situated just a stone’s throw from Naval Support Facility Indian Head, one of the county’s largest employers. Store manager Aaron Derencin said Wednesday that he was surprised to see it had remained business as usual.
“Honestly, most of the base employees are still working,” Derencin said. “We’ve been busier than usual because of the special. This location in particular thrives on having the base right there. We do OK for business at night, but the lunch rush is what drives this store. I think it was just a good idea to give back to the customers who support us.”
Lisa Park, who co-owns and operates Cool Beanz Coffee in Charlotte Hall with Betsy Leonhard, said she had seen the effects of the furlough firsthand, as her husband is a federal employee.
“My husband is furloughed and he came in here today, and he looked restless and I asked him what was wrong,” Park said Wednesday. “He said he didn’t know what to do since he couldn’t go to work.”
With that in mind, Park said she and Leonhard decided to offer a 10 percent discount off all orders to government employees with their IDs.
“We were thinking of ways to help,” Park said. “We’ve only been open for about six weeks and we wanted to use this to get out into the community. We wanted to do something for those people who can’t even come into work. We’re getting a lot of good feedback from our customers. They can come in, set up their computers here, and just get away from it.”
For Debbie Stanley, the owner of The Studio Cooperative in Waldorf, the shutdown hits home. Stanley’s business is offering free yoga and capoeira classes to anyone affected by the furlough and not just federal employees.
During the 1995 shutdown, Stanley worked as a civil servant and her husband, who was an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force at the time, both had to continue to report to work and neither got paid. Her husband was deployed at the time as well.
“We spent 25 days wondering when we’d get paid again and if we could even pay our bills,” Stanley said. “This was just the right thing for us to do. These affected workers might eventually get back pay when it’s over, but they won’t be compensated for overtime or any off time. We had two ladies who were furloughed show up to our yoga class last night, and I don’t think they really believed it was free. ... As soon as they realized it was, one of the gals almost started crying. They just felt better after the class, they said, like somebody cared. I knew then that we were doing the right thing. This is much better than just sitting around all day watching C-SPAN without having something to do.