Furlough Threat Makes Federal Workers Fear The Worst Deficit Woes Also Hit State

Agencies To Cut Spending, Hiring Frozen

September 16, 1990|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,SUN STAFF

If Congress can't hammer out a budget by its deadline, Alan Young and other federal employees in the county will be looking at their own checkbooks in despair.

Uncle Sam has told them they could be furloughed for up to 22 days to help reduce the federal deficit.

"Very few people work for a hobby. Very few people have the cash flow to give up three days of pay," said Young, county supervisor at the Farmers Home Administration in Westminster.

"Most people take their paycheck and vaporize it before the next one shows up," he said.

Young said he was told his office, with four full-time employees, could be closed for three days in each two-week pay period to help the federal government save money.

With rent, child support and loan payments eating up his paychecks, Young said he probably would have to look for a part-time job if furloughed for more than a few days.

The budget deficit as of Aug. 20 was $149.4 billion, and the Graham-Rudman-Hollings debt-reduction law requires that the deficit be whittled to $64 billion in fiscal 1991, an official in the public affairs department at the Office of Management and Budget said.

The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1, which is when furloughs could begin if Congress hasn't passed a budget. Congressional and Bush administration officials were negotiating last week at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.

About 400 federal employees work in the county, making up .8 percent of the Carroll work force.

State agencies also are under a budget strain and have been told to cut from 1 percent to 6 percent from their budgets to make up for a $150 million Maryland deficit.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has imposed a hiring freeze until June 30, the end of the state's fiscal year, which could affect staffing for a new detoxification center in Westminster.

The state employs about 2,000 people in the county, or 4.2 percent of Carroll's work force.

Elizabeth A. Schaeffer, county executive director of the U.S. Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, said she and four other full-time employees in the office are willing to do their part to help the government save money.

"Generally, the feeling is somebody's going to have to bite the bullet," she said.

"We'd much rather have a furlough than a reduction in force," she said.

Closing the office on Mondays and Fridays from October until mid-December would affect service at the agency, which helps farmers implement conservation practices.

"We'll get less done," Schaeffer said.

At FmHA, which provides low-interest loans to homeowners and farmers, Young said he has about 85 loan applications that won't be processed as quickly as they would have if employees weren't furloughed.

His budgets for administrative costs and travel also will be cut, he said.

If employees are off Friday and the following Monday, "We're going to spend most of Tuesday morning trying to regroup," he said.

People needing information or assistance from the Social Security Administration office at 246 E. Green St. in Westminster also could be frustrated if employees are furloughed.

Officials haven't decided whether the office will be closed one or two days a week or staffed by fewer people to keep it open every day, said Phil Gambino, a spokesman for the agency.

The Westminster office has nine full-time and two part-time employees, he said.

Social Security payments will not be affected by the budget cuts, he said.

John H. Sanders, district conservationist at the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in Westminster, said service shouldn't be affected because the office also has employees paid by the state and county.

Sanders and Young, both longtime federal employees, said they've experienced budget crunches before.

Young said he's not sure if Congress will meet its deadline this year.

"I'd say it's 50-50. I've tried to prepare myself for the worst, mentally," he said.

Sanders said last-minute budget decisions are the norm.

"It shouldn't be that way, but that's the way Congress works," he said.

County post offices will not be affected because they operate with a separate budget, Westminster Postmaster Dennis Dawson said.

On the state level, Larry L. Leitch, deputy health officer for the Carroll Health Department, said a hiring freeze is in effect for positions that weren't filled by Aug. 31. The freeze caught the department in the midst of hiring nurses and doctors for the new Shoemaker Detoxification Center in Westminster.

Employees at the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services also may feel a strain because the state has asked them to cut 5.5 percent, or $27 million, from their budget.

The department governs state police, prisons, state fire marshals, parole and probation officers and other law enforcement agencies.

Details on where cuts would be made haven't been decided, a spokesman said.

Carroll school officials don't know yet how the cuts will affect their state funding, said James E. Reter, director of business and finance.

Staff writers Maria Archangelo, Anne Haddad and Greg Tasker contributed to this story.

Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990

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