An All-Too-Real Hardship

October 3, 2013
BY Suzanne Pollak and Eric Hal Schwartz
Government shutdown will have impact on community resources, world opinion of U.S.
Shayna Hefetz said her  husband, Dovev, who works  for U.S. Judiciary, has not been furloughed. But she told the  JT that dozens of the couple’s friends and colleagues are  already feeling the impact. (Provided)

Shayna Hefetz said her husband, Dovev, who works for U.S. Judiciary, has not been furloughed. But she told the JT that dozens of the couple’s friends and colleagues are already feeling the impact. (Provided)

Beth Newman has been working as a statistician at the Census Bureau for more than a year, but when she arrived at the office early Tuesday morning it wasn’t because she was eager to get a jump on the day’s work but because she, like tens of thousands of other federal employees, had to sign her furlough papers acknowledging she won’t get paid and isn’t allowed to work until Congress passes an appropriations bill.

“Whatever is in my bank account is all I have until we get funding again,” the 25-year-old Washington, D.C. resident said shortly after leaving her office for the foreseeable future.

Despite the uncertainty she faces, Newman isn’t too despondent yet. It’s still early in this first government shutdown in 17 years, and she’s already making plans for how to use her time. She’s going to attend Sixth & I Historic Synagogue’s event for furloughed employees to relax, play games and commiserate together.

“I’m so glad they are doing that,” she said.

Newman also plans to take advantage of some of the many offers promoted by area bars and restaurants, ranging from free food for those with a government ID to discounted drinks. Some of the publicized offers include the caveat that members of Congress are excluded.

Dovev Hefetz, formerly of Baltimore and now living in Kemp Mill, works in the computer department at the U.S. Judiciary, where he was told that he will be working at least through the first 10 days of the shutdown.

“We are hopeful that the government figures it out. They have 10 days to figure it out,” said his wife, Shayna.

She is happy that both her husband and her mother, who works for the Veterans Administration, have not been furloughed. However, she said, many of her Facebook friends were furloughed on the shutdown’s first day.

Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who is running for governor, noted that “every day the government is shut down, [the state of Maryland] stands to lose $5 million in revenue. Our families face possible furloughs; our businesses lose sales. “

“It’s a travesty, and it has grave consequences for lots of people, especially those living paycheck to paycheck,” said Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

He explained that for many such people, even a few days without pay can add pressure to their finances, and in the Jewish community, as well as for others, there are consequences.

“It’s going to put a strain on community resources,” Abramson said. “Lots of people treat it like it’s a joke, and it’s not.”

He added that the whole world is viewing the U.S. as if it’s crazy, and that could have a negative impact on U.S. foreign policy.

“The world is looking at the U.S. as a banana republic,” he said.

Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington,
believes it’s too soon to judge how harshly this will affect people. He said his organization, along with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, is acutely aware that if this situation becomes prolonged, many people will be hurting.

Should that happen, “the Jewish community will mobilize,” Halber said. “Hopefully this will be over in a few days.”

He called Congress’ inability to agree on a budget “an embarrassment” for the whole world. “The bottom line is, we’ll see who cracks first,” he said of the two political parties.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) is upset that the government seems to go from one crisis to the next without considering the fate of the country’s most vulnerable.

“Because of this dysfunction, the USDA has announced that programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will run out of money, leaving nine million women and children without nutrition assistance,” wrote JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “Head Start, which creates opportunity for children, would also suffer an immediate reduction, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees in each of our communities who will still be expected to meet their financial obligations even as we, as a nation, neglect ours.”

“States can temporarily shoulder extra burdens, but as the days continue, the effects of a government shutdown will grow more serious,” noted JCPA Chair Larry Gold.

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