January 4, 1996
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The wrangling over the U.S. federal budget has been marked by much finger pointing and rancor between congressional Republicans and President Clinton. But the hundreds of thousands of Americans and federal workers caught in the government shutdown, now well into its third week, consider themselves the real targets in the battle.
The contentious budget crisis can have chilling human consequences: The struggle for survival is even more difficult amid sagging morale and rising anxiety. Hundreds of protests have sprouted throughout the nation condemning the political fighting that has understandably raised the wrath of people who usually help the needy, but are now needy themselves. (570K QuickTime movie)
After 20 days of increasing hardship, furloughed federal workers have become more vocal about the budget debate. Van Zan Frater, an unpaid federal employee, was among those warning that the people will show their will at the polls. (128K AIFF sound or 128K WAV sound)
Another unpaid furloughed worker said anger and frustration are prevailing amid worry over when the next paycheck will materialize to pay even basic bills. (238K AIFF sound or 238K WAV sound)
Meanwhile, governmental departments and private institutions affected by the budget crunch have been forced to become resourceful or as generous as can be to survive. Some banks are offering low- and no-interest loans to workers squeezed by the shutdown. Other banks are offering extensions on loan payments.
Diplomats worldwide are scrambling to make interim arrangements so that locally hired guards who protect American officials can remain on duty. Right now, even the U.S. Marines who guard embassies don't have a meal allowance as promised from the State Department.
In Cuba, a few thousand dollars goes to pay contractors to deliver drinking water to the U.S. diplomatic mission and homes of U.S. diplomats. That money is coming from a State Department "carryover fund" of less than $3 million.
In Vietnam and other countries, the lights may go out and the heat may be turned off at U.S. embassies and homes of American diplomats unless they pay their overdue utility bills.
An American official overseas who wants to get somewhere might have to siphon gas from one vehicle to the next.
Some dozen or more envoys who are ready to head to new ambassadorial posts -- including former Sen. James Sasser, bound for China -- can't go because they lack travel money.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher is going ahead next week with a planned trip to France, Israel and Syria because he felt it was too vital to postpone. There's no exact word yet on where the money will come from for his travels, except perhaps by credit card. The question is when the bills can be paid.
Of critical concern to State Department officials is the computer relay station in Beltsville, Maryland. That's where messages from government computers can be relayed to installations abroad. Many of the relay center's workers are contract employees.
Examples of resourcefulness by necessity are found at the Veterans Administration hospitals in Miami and Oklahoma City, which have set up food banks for their employees.
But financial problems remain. The non-profit Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund is in danger of going broke itself. Some 2,700 calls have been coming into its Denver-based office in recent days, and the four-person staff is plowing through dense paperwork to decide which 200 applicants will get interest-free loans up to $500. There have been 700 applications so far.
More than 750,000 federal workers have been without pay since December 16; 480,000 of those have been working, anyway. Many of the affected workers got partial pay in their most recent paychecks, which covered days before the shutdown began. But there will be nothing in the next one unless there is a settlement.
The shutdown affects more than just federal workers, of course. Beginning Thursday, for instance, elderly people served by the Meals on Wheels program, run by the Department of Health and Human Services, are at risk. Money has run out, and private contractors to both Meals on Wheels and Medicare will not be paid.
Meals on Wheels recipient Mattie Barnett, who lives just a few blocks from where the negotiations are taking place, said the powers that be in government just don't give a hoot. (94K AIFF sound or 94K WAV sound)
Law enforcement efforts are being affected, as well. For instance, the housing of federal prisoners in state and local jails is now being paid for by local governments. The Justice Department promises it will pay them back.
While federal law enforcement sources said criminal investigative work remains largely unaffected, lack of Justice Department funding has caused the cancellation of training for top-flight state and local law enforcement officials at the FBI's National Academy in Quantico. Civil litigation has come to a halt. And, processing of illegal aliens by the Immigration and Naturalization Service has stopped.
Federal prosecutors and investigators face looming difficulties from the lack of funds to immediately repay government workers who routinely put government-related expenses on government-issued credit cards. "The system is beginning to crumble around the edges," one Justice Department official said.
To add insult to injury, word is that the payment and promise of payment to government informants may soon be in jeopardy. The FBI and Justice Departments rely on informants for critical information in many criminal cases.
Related agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Secret Service are not affected because they come under the Treasury Department, one of the departments for which funding has been approved.
Other effects of the government shutdown as described by President Clinton are:
--Half of the Head Start early childhood education programs will run out of money in a month.
--The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's flu-outbreak tracking program is unable to keep up.
--The Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement activities have been stopped and toxic waste clean-up at many sites is at a halt.
--The Drinking Water Contamination Hot Line is going unanswered.
--Ninety-five percent of workplace safety activities have been halted.
--Medicaid funding for nursing home care, pregnant women, the disabled and poor children is running out.
--Processing of some 2,500 mortgage insurance applications is not being done, leaving 20,000 people unable to purchase a home.
--Educational benefits were not sent to 170,000 veterans in December.
--The Federal Emergency Management Agency program for disaster victims has no more money
--Hundreds of research labs and more than 3,000 National Institutes of Health grants are stalled
--Loans are not going to small businesses, which could use them to create jobs.
Department of Health and Human Services secretary Donna Shalala has issued a scathing scolding to the GOP-controlled Congress. "At whose expense is this world class temper tantrum to close down the government of the United States?" she said. "It's the most vulnerable people."
Unpaid, furloughed federal employee also are having their say, in a variety of ways. One of them, Janice Bowden, left this message on her answering machine: "Hi, this is Janice: Loyal, faithful, unpaid federal employee. I'm either outside working on a cardboard house or I've gone out to rob a 7/11. Leave a message and I'll get back to you, if I still have a phone."
And in Portland, Oregon, the dead may come back to haunt the living. Graves at the Willamette National Cemetery have become overgrown since 43 grounds-crew workers were furloughed, and the remaining workers have to keep up with a dozen burials a day.
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