Hundreds more Marylanders are seeking unemployment insurance benefits related to the federal government shutdown, the state said Wednesday as the funding impasse entered its 12th day.
The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said it received 462 such benefit applications from Dec. 22 through Dec. 31. The state previously reported 169 applications from Dec. 22 — the day the funding impasse began — through Dec. 27.
The shutdown is caused by a dispute between President Donald Trump and Congress over whether to fund a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Federal workers have expressed growing anxiety as the stalemate persists.
"It's hard because you don't know when this thing is going to end," said Darryl A. Burton Sr., an investigator with the U.S. Postal Service's inspector general's office who was furloughed.
"You start curtailing things as simple as putting gas in the car," said Burton, 57, whose wife regularly drives for Lyft to help the extended Silver Spring family of six make ends meet. "You may want to hold off because you may need those dollars for something else down the road."
Burton said he had not applied for unemployment benefits but was not ruling out any option to help provide for his family.
The state Department of Labor said it has received unemployment insurance benefit applications from workers at all affected federal agencies, which include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State and Treasury.
The weekly benefit provided by the Maryland Unemployment Insurance Law ranges from $50 to $430. The size of the benefit depends on how much the worker's job was paying.
The unemployment insurance program is funded mostly through state and federal payroll taxes paid by employers. To be eligible, workers must have been dismissed or furloughed and be available for full-time work.
If Congress grants back pay, the recipients will have to repay any unemployment benefits.
In a shutdown, paychecks for federal employees are temporarily suspended and retroactive pay must be approved by Congress. Maryland's Democratic senators, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and other members of the state’s delegation are pushing Congress to approve bipartisan legislation ensuring that affected federal workers receive back pay.
The shutdown affects one-quarter of the government and about 800,000 employees who are furloughed or working without pay.
Maryland feels the sting of shutdowns particularly hard because of its proximity to Washington.
"We've got so many agencies where so many people live in Maryland," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat.
Ruppersberger is backing a funding bill by New York Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey — the incoming chairman of the House Appropriations Committee — that would reopen all or most of the government when Democrats assume their new House majority this week.
But Trump has refused to support any government funding measure that doesn't include $5.7 billion for a wall to heighten security at the Mexican border.
“One thing has now been proven. The Democrats do not care about Open Borders and all of the crime and drugs that Open Borders bring!” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
But Rep. John Sarbanes, a Baltimore County Democrat, said the shutdown is "an affront to our nation’s hardworking civil servants and represents another embarrassing moment, not only for the Trump presidency, but for our entire country."
The shutdown also affected thousands of government contractors in the area, and many don’t know if their employers will reimburse them for time and money lost.
"In the last couple times we got paid as if it was vacation," said Calisia Chavez, who said she gets paid $17 an hour for her full-time contract cleaning job at the National Archives.
"This time, I don't really know what will happen," she said in Spanish through an interpreter. “I am more alarmed.”
Chavez, 64, of Washington, was reached through 32BJ SEIU, a union representing 163,000 cleaners, security officers and other workers — including 18,000 in the Washington-Baltimore region.
Chavez said she supports two daughters in El Salvador who each have two children.
"Normally this (holiday season) is a happy time and I would have sent clothes and shoes, but all I was able to send was for them to eat," said Chavez, a permanent resident who hopes to one day bring her daughters to the United States.
"I may have to go on unemployment, which I have never done," she said.
The shutdown has created uncertainty in other ways, too.
Craig Swenson, 37, of Perry Hall was applying for federal park ranger jobs as the shutdown began.
It "has put us in a nebulous state of uncertainty," Swenson said. "I had an interview several days before the shutdown began, and two more scheduled for afterwards, but until the shutdown ends, the majority of seasonal park rangers and I will be living with our futures literally on hold."
Swenson's applications included one for a post at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
"I feel fairly confident I will get a position (somewhere)," he said. "If I'm moving across the country, you kind of want to be able to plan."
Mark McCleary, senior pastor at Liberty Seventh-day Adventist Church in Burtonsville, said he knows the shutdown can take a significant toll.
"We take care of our own," McCleary said. "At our year-end Sabbath, we prayed for our government and anybody who may be directly affected. We prayed that Republicans and Democrats would put their heads together and find an equitable solution."
The shutdown also could affect state revenue from commuters who normally use MARC trains.
“Many government and non-government workers rely on MARC Train each day,” said spokesperson Sandy Arnette of the Maryland Transit Administration. “We will not know the impact of the federal government shutdown on MARC Train until the beginning of February when all data is gathered and we can compare to previous years.”
Not all federal employees in Maryland and elsewhere are being left without a paycheck, because previously passed measures have funded roughly 75 percent of the government, including the departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Labor and Veterans Affairs. The largest group of federal workers in Maryland, some 11,000 employees of the Social Security Administration, which is headquartered in Woodlawn, are not affected, according to a union official.
The U.S. Postal Service, an independent agency, is continuing to operate. But its inspector general's office — Burton's employer — receives federal funding that dried up on Dec. 22.
"We're reaching out to creditors to advise them of the situation because we don't know the duration of this shutdown," said Burton, who also serves as pastor of Converted Heart, a Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
Burton’s bills include tuition of about $8,000 for his son's spring semester at New York's Monroe College plus about $750 a month for school loans for his seminary and his daughter.
"I wish it was the summer time because that would give me an opportunity to cut somebody's yard,” he said. “Your whole life changes when the government is shut down.”