SILVER SPRING – Most of the 100 federal employees and contractors who feasted on Chinese food, turkey legs, pizza and baked goods at the Feb. 8 community dinner have received all the back pay they are eligible for.
However, fear of another shutdown taking place anytime politicians happen to disagree has muted their joy of being back to work and back to receiving paychecks.
This was the second dinner in support of the furloughed federal workers held at Montgomery Blair High School. Six-hundred people attended the first one on Jan. 11, which took place in the midst of the shutdown, with no end in sight. Several musicians entertained the workers that night.
Far fewer people attended last week’s dinner, and the only music was piped in over loudspeakers. Instead, there were about a half-dozen tables manned by utility companies and county agencies to advise people who were still having trouble catching up financially.
Eric Bucher, a research librarian at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), was happy with the community support both at the dinner and during the shutdown.
As a contract worker for a recruiting company, Bucher made only a small amount of money for the few hours he worked during the 35-day shutdown.
“When they were closed, I was not able to work,” he said of NIST.
But thanks to information passed along from U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8), Bucher obtained many gift cards, including $50 from Giant supermarket, to help make ends meet.
He also filled out surveys on his computer, which rewarded him with free movie tickets and discounts at area stores.
Aaron and Yasmeen Barnett of Silver Spring also said they got by thanks to the goodness of area charities and family. They are both employees at D.C. Superior Court, which is funded by the federal government.
Yasmeen Barnett worked without being paid while her husband stayed home with their two daughters.
“We had to seek assistance. I stood in different lines to get charity,” including gas cards, he said. “We definitely had to seek help.”
They are glad to be back at work and receiving pay. They also are glad that it’s tax season; they intend to use their refund to make them solvent again.
They originally thought that their youngest daughter’s sixth birthday would be a subdued one, thanks to the furlough. But a friend on social media told Yasmeen Barnett about a woman offering to give a birthday party to any furloughed workers’ child.
The next thing they knew, their daughter had a unicorn party with favors and treats.
“It was a blessing,” Yasmeen Barnett said.
County Council Vice Chairman Sidney Katz pointed to all the charities, food banks and restaurants who stepped up to help their neighbors, and said, “Montgomery County is a very fortunate place. We really are, but when something like this happens to our neighbors, we get together like no other.”
People are just digging themselves out of a financial hole now, Councilman Will Jawando said. “With this guy in the White House, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The shutdown affected so many people, added Councilman Tom Hucker. Besides the federal and contract workers, there were all the small businesses that weren’t frequented as often and all the workers not called as people canceled such projects as home improvement jobs.
“People are still stressed out,” Hucker said.
Also addressing the dinner attendees was Fire Chief Scott Goldstein, who called what happened “an emergency. It is not a ‘911’ call, but it is an emergency.”
Whatever it is called, it was bad, said Mallorye Levett of Silver Spring, who was furloughed from her job at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“I think for me, the biggest part was the mental part, not knowing when to go back and knowing there were others doing the work,” she said.
Andrew Scott of Silver Spring oversees about 50 contractors – most of whom he couldn’t find work for during the shutdown.
For them, no money can be earned when work is not done. “If you don’t work the hours, you can’t bill them. You can’t bill the federal government for hours not worked.”
He is the father of four children. During the shutdown, “There were some kids’ activities we had to skip,” said his wife, Andrea Scott.
It’s good to be back working, her husband said. But if there is another shutdown coming, “That will be the worse.”
The community dinner was put together by Councilmen Hucker and Jawando, Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, Manna Food Center, Nourish Now and Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen.