Employees at the Social Security Administration expressed relief yesterday at dodging another layoff bullet, but they continue to feel themselves nervous hostages to the federal budget impasse.
"Everybody was relieved they weren't furloughed today, but they are still upset, and jittery, and anxious about the next time," said Alvin Levy, who has worked 29 years at the Woodlawn complex.
"I bet the government has lost hundreds of thousands of work-hours because people are so worried about the furlough threat, and they are constantly talking about it to everybody [on the job]," he observed.
The emergency funding legislation signed by President Bush prevented federal employees from being sent home yesterday, and granted a
reprieve until Oct. 19 for planned furloughs to reach budget deficit reduction goals.
"This seems to happen every year, and it never gets any better," said Floyd McDaniels as he walked to his office in the neighboring Health Care Financing Administration building yesterday. "This time, though, it looks a lot stronger."
The stopgap budget measure will stave off the Oct. 19 furlough day planned for the 2,500 HCFA employees in Baltimore. But agency employees are scheduled for twice-monthly unpaid furlough days through next September to reduce the budget deficit, Mr. McDaniels noted.
"It's no secret that workers feel betrayed by the government," said Joseph Flynn, an HCFA employee. At the agency, which administers the Medicare program, about 400 workers have filed grievances through the union, claiming there is no basis for the furlough plans. The American Federation of Government Employees plans to appeal the case jointly to the Federal Merit System Protection Board, said local Vice President Philip Otto.
The federal credit union that services both HCFA and Social Security employees is gearing up for emergency withdrawals and short-term loans, and is considering a plan to allow %o interest-only payments on loans made by employees with particular hardships, Mr. Otto noted.
"I hope it will work out, and I'm not going to let it bother me," said Ann Robinson of HCFA while making the rounds of organizing the annual combined charities campaign in the building.
The somber mood among employees may hurt the campaign. When she asked Mr. McDaniels to take a lead role in the effort, he declined, joking: "That's a dangerous job these days, asking people to give money when they're facing a furlough."