Robin Weber has worked at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn for 19 years and for most of those years there has been the threat of furloughs when the federal budget is being acted on.
But, she says, never has the threat seemed as real as it has this year.
"Everybody is scared and really confused at this point," Weber, 36, a clerical worker, said yesterday. "It's so stressful. Everybody is upset. Everybody is getting testy.
"Every year we go through this with the budget, but this is the first time there are actual furloughs being proposed."
SSA is one of several federal agencies facing budget cuts of 32 percent under the federal deficit reduction act. That amounts to about $1 billion in annual payroll costs.
SSA Administrator Gwendolyn S. King said furloughs could be imposed Tuesday if administration and congressional negotiators don't reach agreement on spending cuts by Sunday night.
Under the furlough plan, SSA's 14,000 workers in Woodlawn and Baltimore would work six-hour days Monday through Thursday and be off Friday.
"We'll go to bed Sunday and wake up Monday and watch the 12 o'clock news to find out if we should come in Monday," said one female worker at the SSA Metro West office on Greene Street in downtown Baltimore.
Weber said she is single and can barely survive if she loses her job. She wonders how those workers with families will survive. Many of her co-workers live from paycheck to paycheck, she said.
"One reason why I chose to work for the government was the job security," Weber said. "I have no idea what I'll do" if furloughs are instituted, she said.
That the threat of furloughs has caused nervousness could be seen on the hands of one worker. "They're all gone," said the woman, showing the fingernails she has been chewing on.
"What am I going to do? This is the only job I've ever had," another woman asked, leaning against the brick wall of the Metro West office building.
She questioned how Congress can give itself a pay raise that is "more than my salary a year. It doesn't make sense."
"I blame the politicians the most," said another worker. "They look out for themselves" and don't care about the "little people," the worker added.
Many workers said the public, too, will feel the effects of a furlough when their benefit checks are delayed as workers put in fewer hours.
Already, merchants at Lexington Market have felt the effect of the worry over furloughs, said the woman with the chewed-up fingernails, noting that many Metro West workers have begun to brown-bag rather than buy lunch at the market.
One woman found some humor in the furlough situation. "There are so many rumors, if I had a dollar for every rumor, I wouldn't have to worry about being furloughed," said a remittance clerk at the Woodlawn office.
"I'm just praying because I live payday to payday," she said. "I can't worry about it because if I do, I'll go loony."