Shutdown 'really makes you angry' The pain spreads: As bills go unpaid and trips are postponed, individuals and businesses suffer along with federal employees.

January 04, 1996|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Rafael Alvarez, Kris Antonelli, Joanna Daemmrich, Mark Guidera, Suzanne Loudermilk, Shanon D. Murray and Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

When Karen L. Milio's painting company finished power-washing a water tower at the Fort Howard Veterans Hospital in November, she figured she would be paid for the $10,000 job before Christmas.

She is still waiting for the check.

The VA center, like much of the federal government, has stalled payments to many of its 4,000 contractors since the latest budget impasse began Dec. 16.

"It's making things difficult," Ms. Milio said of the VA's unpaid bill. The $10,000 Fort Howard job was "a pretty minor contract," she said, even for her small business, L&M Painting Contractors Inc. of Abingdon. But it came in a year already so slow that she has cut her payroll from 10 employees to three.

"It just really makes you angry," she said. "They're hurting so many people. I agree with Senator [Barbara A.] Mikulski that if they're going to cause this furlough, and lay people off, and not pay people for the work they're doing, they [the politicians] shouldn't be paid either."


At the Baltimore National Cemetery on Frederick Road in Catonsville, federal employees still are burying military veterans, but many of the details have been put on hold.

"Half of our staff of 12 is on furlough, and the half coming to work are only coming in as needed, mostly just for burials," said Robin Pohlman, the director of the military cemetery. "We're not replacing headstones, fixing sunken graves or removing any old floral arrangements. Our mission is interments."


The federal budget bind has cut Bernice Pearre's business in half.

She is president of Visa Adventure, a two-person Lansdowne operation that secures visas and passports for international travelers. The visas still are available from the foreign embassies, but if customers also need passports issued or renewed, they're out of luck. The Passport Office is closed.

Travelers must prove literal "life and death emergencies" to get one. Holding nonrefundable tickets won't suffice.

"A client called me last Thursday and wanted to leave the country today, Jan. 3, and I told her to call her congressman's office. There was nothing I could do for her," Ms. Pearre said.

Visa Adventure's losses aren't critical yet, she said. And once the tour business picks up again in February, she said, "we probably won't even notice the loss." But that assumes that those tour customers already have valid passports or that the Passport Office has reopened.


Jon Johnson, branch manager at Omega Travel in downtown Baltimore, said one customer postponed a trip to Frankfurt, Germany, after realizing that his passport had expired and that the ticket was nonrefundable.

"He had a $300 change penalty, so it was pretty devastating for him," Mr. Johnson said. "He was on a tight budget."

A. J. Janjua, manager of Super Eagle Travel, also had customers with passport troubles. One man was granted an emergency passport after his father died in London.


Only eight workers are left at the Patuxent Environmental Science Center, near Fort Meade, to feed the 2,000 birds kept there. All of the birds are members of endangered species such as the whooping crane, said Dr. David Trauger, deputy director of the center.

All but 10 of the 260 workers at the center and the nearby Patuxent Research Refuge have been furloughed. Eight are taking care of the birds, and two are police officers patrolling the grounds.

"If we get a bad storm or some other weather emergency, we will really be in bad shape," Dr. Trauger said. "In a wet snow or ice storm, we need to have workers around the clock knocking the snow off the pens so they don't collapse on the birds."

The 10 workers have been able to ward off disaster despite a power failure last week that permitted the water in some of the pens to freeze.


Faith Fahnestock, the daughter and wife of former career military men and herself a 22-year Veterans Affairs employee in Baltimore, had to get her bread, macaroni and grits yesterday from the VA's emergency food store.

The eat-now, pay-later grocery store was set up Tuesday for VA employees who find their budgets stretched by the impasse. Most VA workers received one week's pay Tuesday for two weeks' work. Next payday, they will get nothing, although they remain on the job as "essential" personnel.

"I received half a paycheck," said Ms. Fahnestock, a secretary to the VA hospital's associate chief of staff for education. "It will not cover the gas and electric, the fuel. I have car payments it's not going to cover. Some of my bills will be covered, but I have to retain most to make sure my family has food. I have two kids at home."

Ms. Fahnestock said she has talked to the dealer who holds the loan on her car. "They said they weren't aware that all this was going on," she said. "They're to get back to me."


Douglas Lloyd saw the budget train wreck coming.

The 56-year-old associate administrator at the Department of Health and Human Services in Rockville follows the government's actions avidly on television and in the newspapers, and he began saving money last summer.

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