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Furloughed ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst

Jeff McDonald wasn’t thrilled to be sent home early from work on Tuesday.

Then again, it would take more than a federal shutdown to unnerve the Stafford County man, who served 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps before taking a job with the federal government nine years ago.

Furloughed indefinitely, McDonald quietly played a game on his iPad while riding home on the midday Virginia Railway Express train, which added extra cars in anticipation of a flood of furloughed commuters just like him.

Discussion leading up to the shutdown focused on the 800,000 federal workers who faced furloughs in the wake of lawmakers’ inability to reach a budget agreement, McDonald said.

“But we’re just the first ripple,” he said, noting that 300 million U.S. citizens will start to see a breakdown in government services before long.

“I personally don’t like the politics of it,” he said. “They [lawmakers] need to look out for the benefit of the country and quit looking out for their party.”

Janine Coogler of Fredericksburg spent Tuesday morning gathering personal items from her office at the Bureau of Prisons, unsure of when she’d get to return.

“You don’t know. You hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” she said. “It’s hard to go from having something to not having anything, especially in the economy as it is now.”

She wasn’t the only one worried about finances. The shutdown effectively ended Allison Owens’ ability to award grants through her job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture—and money already awarded may also be impacted, the Fredericksburg woman said.

In addition, her personal finances may suffer.

“It’s going to affect my bills, just like everyone else,” said Owens, who said she may have to dip into her savings. “Stability is not always there like it used to be with the government.”

Fredericksburg resident Walter Baker Jr. recalled the last government shutdown 17 years ago. He’d just gotten his first paycheck when he was furloughed.

“I had just got hired and it was like a slap in the face,” he said.

But that experience taught him to be prepared, and this time, he set money aside just in case.

“It used to be you go into government because it’s safe,” said Baker, who works for the Department of Defense at Fort Belvoir. “Those days are gone.”

Not knowing what comes next is stressful, he said. Just because the paychecks have stopped doesn’t mean the bills will.

“The other companies don’t care we are furloughed,” he said.

Marielsie Avila said she’d been watching the news and had mentally prepared herself to be away from her job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for several weeks. Still, she said, she was disappointed that legislators couldn’t reach some sort of compromise.

“I blame both sides,” she said. “Next election, we’re getting rid of all of them.”

James Hoemann of Spotsylvania County was also frustrated with the stalemate in Congress.

“Figure out how to play in the sandbox together,” he said. “The hard part for us is we’re expected to work things out or else—and they themselves chose not to work things out.”

Hoemann hasn’t had a vacation from his job at Housing and Urban Development since Christmas, so he figured he’d spend time over the next few weeks with his children, ages 5, 10 and 12.

McDonald of Stafford planned to visit a friend today and tackle a list of chores during his furlough.

“Shoot, I may stop into a couple of stores and see if they’re hiring,” he said. “I’m not going to sit around the house and watch my toenails grow.”

Robyn Sidersky: 540/374-5413


Some comments emailed to The Free Lance–Star by some local civil servants and family members:

L. Taylor of Stafford, who works at the Naval Sea Systems Command at the Washington Navy Yard, wrote:

“I would love to know why we don’t get paid, but the President, Congress and Senate do. As a single parent who is a [government] hard worker for the past 30 years, this has to stop. It occurs every year and we, as taxpayers who pay their paychecks, are sick of this B.S. I think they should all lose their jobs and we start with an entirely new system. If I have to balance my house finances, then why don’t they?”

Craig Goldstein said in his note the impact is potentially devastating:

“We are a single-income household. We just had to pay out a big medical bill that was not covered under insurance.” So working with limited resources, “We have enough to handle a few days out; after that I have no clue how we will survive.”

Becky Holland asked, “How is this impacting me? I am a stay-at-home mom with a husband who works for the government as the sole breadwinner of the family, and it will mean no income at all. No income means no food, no bills being paid. I don’t see how this is going to help anyone!”


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