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UPPER MARLBORO — During President Donald J. Trump’s ongoing partial government shutdown (longest ever), the residents of Prince George’s County are no exception to the pain being felt around the country.
The shutdown began on Dec. 22 over congressional leaders at odds over Trump’s demands for a $5 billion wall at the Mexican border to be included in the national budget. According to a statement released by County Council Chair Todd Turner, out of the 361,000 federal workers in the Metropolitan Washington region, approximately 17 percent, or over 60,000 people, live in Prince George’s County.
To assist county residents in this difficult time, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced a number of services provided by various county departments that are available to those affected by the shutdown on Jan. 10.
These services include increased health services where any adult or minor who loses health insurance coverage can get care with the county health department at the Cheverly Health Clinic and the Healthy Teens and Young Adults Program on a sliding fee schedule.
Students in need of financial help can contact the Special Scholarships Hotline or reach out to organizations such as United Way of the National Capital Area and the Financial Empowerment Center. The Department of Social Services is offering programs such as food supplement assistance, energy assistance, temporary cash, and disability assistance programs and medical assistance.
“While our friends and neighbors are faced with making tough financial decisions, your government and its partners have worked collaboratively to provide relief,” Alsobrooks said. “We hope these resources will offer some level of security and stability for your families during this difficult time. Please know that while things may have ground to a halt in Washington, we are continuing to fight and serve on your behalf.”
Although the county is providing a number of services, residents are continuing to feel the effects of the shutdown.
Helen Ávalos, 42, a housekeeping employee for ACE Maintenance and Service, Inc., whose employees are subcontracted to work out of the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, found herself in the same position as thousands of others worried that she would be asked to stay home from work.
“If this continues, I will not be able to pay even just the normal expenses that happen every month. If this continues to drag on, it personally affects me,” she said. “How will I pay for my home? How will pay all my bills? I currently live paycheck-to-paycheck to pay my bills.”
Ávalos, who lives in New Carrollton with her husband and two children, said it is unclear when the company’s funds will be dried up to pay for employees but the housekeepers union she works were scheduled to meet officials with Walter Reed on Jan. 12 to discuss their options. However, the food court workers in the hospitals have hours cut or simply be asked to not come in at all over the course of the shutdown.
The Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce (PGCOC) President and CEO David Harrington received feedback from business owners after sending out a poll with plans to send the responses to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and urge the shutdown to end.
“Uniformly, this is having a devastating impact, to some having to take out loans to keep their business afloat to others, what I would call peripheral businesses, seeing a major drop in their businesses to everyday people being hurt,” Harrington said. “So it is having a devastating effect on business and we all calling for an immediate end.”
Kimberly Crockett, president and CEO of DMV Solution LLC, told the PGCOC that her company was given a stop work order on Jan. 3 and that the federal agency they contracted with would try to process their timesheets that weekend.
Community Advocates For Family And Youth (CAFY) CEO Arleen Joell shared with the PGCOC that CAFY works with domestic violence survivors who fear not being able to pay their bills and having to go back to the dangerous situations they were trying to escape from in turn.
“When we talk about living paycheck to paycheck, there are some business that live from contract to contract or business opportunity to business opportunity,” Harrington said. “It’s certainly not easy for them at all, and in some cases, they may have to make other kinds of staff adjustments that certainly nobody wants to see. When the president says that people can wait, they cannot wait.”
The University of Maryland College Park has seen the shutdown putting significant research endeavors on hold.
According to the university, during a shutdown, the school risks losses or delay in funding their research enterprise across the scale. There can be no interactions with federal scientists, and engineers who partner and collaborate in critical research areas including quantum science, earth science, and materials research and they lack of access to important federal facilities and resources.
UMD receives a significant portion of their federal research dollars from NSF, NIST, NOAA and NASA, which are currently shut down. Many scientists and students across campus are awaiting funding from these agencies that cannot be awarded during a shutdown and research on quantum materials, batteries and fuel cells, are currently on hold.
Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) has changed its policy regarding school lunches to accommodate for the shutdown. On Jan. 5, Board of Education Member K. Alexander Wallace (District 7) took the initiative to advocate for the students whose parents are affected by the shutdown and wrote a letter to Interim CEO Monica Goldson requesting that all students receive free lunch for the duration of the shutdown.
“During this ongoing partial federal government shutdown, one of the longest in our nation’s history, my heart and mind are not on the political battles being waged in Washington but, instead, on the impacted families within Prince George’s County who themselves are wondering how their household needs will be met.”
Wallace asked for the school system to temporarily waive meal costs for students not previously enrolled in FARMs.
Goldson then announced the 10,000 Meals Challenge which is accepting donations to support breakfast and lunch costs for students.
Additionally, PGCPS is offering furloughed employees an opportunity to apply to be a substitute teacher of substitute paraprofessional for the duration of the shutdown.