Schaefer: U.S. furloughs 'bad government' Cuts would hurt poor, governor says in letter

September 27, 1990|By Mike Rood | Mike Rood,State News Service

WASHINGTON -- Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer has joined the chorus of frustration over federal budget negotiations, saying job furloughs faced next week by many of the state's 265,000 federal employees will cause them financial problems and will harm local economies.

"It is simply bad government to try to balance the national budget by raiding the pocketbooks of our federal workers," Schaefer said in a letter yesterday to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md.

If congressional and White House negotiators cannot agree by Sunday night on a budget that meets deficit-reduction goals, the automatic cuts would hurt most federally aided programs that serve Maryland's poor, Schaefer said.

In his letter to Sarbanes, Schaefer outlined how automatic budget cuts would hit "people" programs the hardest.

"The most devastating impact will be felt by the most needy citizens of our state. Maryland will lose over $7 million for low-income energy assistance," said the governor, who noted that the recent increase in oil prices will worsen the situation.

According to Schaefer's Washington office, other federal programs in Maryland that would be hit hard include:

* Chapter 1 programs for educationally disadvantaged public school students could lose $27 million. Such programs provide money for schools in poor neighborhoods to hire extra classroom aides and provide other resources for students who need special help. In the 1988-89 school year, Maryland received $64.5 million in Chapter 1 funds, of which Baltimore got $29.7 million.

* Unemployment benefit checks could be delayed two weeks or more.

* Drug-abuse programs would suffer $15 million in cuts, requiring the state to drop new anti-drug initiatives.

* Construction delays on the Baltimore Metro extension, which could cost $16 million.

* Delays in meeting goals of the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program could bring more costs.

The biggest impact of furloughs will be felt at the Social Security Administration offices in Woodlawn and at the Metro West building in downtown Baltimore, the governor said.

Also yesterday, SSA Commissioner Gwendolyn S. King said that, if necessary, nearly 14,000 agency employees in the Baltimore area -- and nearly 40,000 more nationally -- will be furloughed to achieve the 32 percent spending cut required under the deficit-reduction act.

Under the furlough plan, King said, employees will be asked to work from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and to take Friday off.

In the second week of the furlough, should that be necessary, SSA employees would work a different schedule because the Columbus Day holiday falls on a Monday. Federal workers cannot receive holiday pay unless they work either the day before the holiday or the day after.

So after taking the Monday holiday, workers' hours would be 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday with Friday an off-day. The 16 hours worked in the middle days of the week, added to Monday's holiday pay of eight hours, equals another 24-hour week.

In the third week, employees would return to the first week's schedule until the end of the year if need be. Thanksgiving and Christmas fall on work days, but SSA did not release what the schedules would be for those weeks should a budget impasse continue that long.

King said she decided on a furlough solution that would keep SSA offices open the longest and still consider the needs of employees.

"The mission of this agency has to do with providing services to the public as well as meeting the needs of our employees," she said.

Had the agency furloughed employees on Tuesday and Thursday as had first been speculated, service to the public and employees' paychecks would have been affected, King said.

Social Security retirement checks go out Wednesday and the agency is busiest on the day of mailings and the day after, she said. Under the previous plan, no one would have answered the telephone the day after the checks went out.

King also pledged to take a 40 percent salary reduction -- the same as employees -- for as long as a budget impasse continues. King is paid more than $83,000 a year.

"It's going to hurt me, too," she said of any furlough. But King also noted that only presidential appointees confirmed by the Senate are exempt from the deficit-reduction law, and she is the only such employee at SSA.

Choosing not to mention the Bush administration's half of the bargain, King said, "it is important for everyone to understand that Congress must act" on the budget. "We're the pawns in this chess game and it's not fair," she said.

SSA employees were much in evidence on the U.S. Capitol steps yesterday as more than 3,000 federal workers held a lively demonstration opposing furloughs. About 900 SSA workers traveled by bus from Woodlawn to join the crowd.

Sarbanes told the boisterous group that Maryland lawmakers were going to stand by them. "A nation that has a second-rate public service is a second-rate nation," he said.

Most of the speakers blamed any furloughs on President Bush, who has been insisting on a cut in the capital gains tax during the budget summit.

The capital gains break would significantly benefit only the top few percent of taxpayers, a point not missed at the rally. Maryland Rep. Benjamin A. Cardin, D-3rd, said workers shouldn't be scapegoats for "the president's insistence on a tax break for the wealthy."

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