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Archive for Friday, January 5, 1996

ANGRY

January 5, 1996

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The government shutdown has become a frustrating and expensive inconvenience for Lawrence's federal workers.

Hundreds of federal workers in Lawrence received paychecks Thursday but for about half of what they usually earn in a two-week pay period. It could be the last money they receive from the government until Congress and President Clinton resolve the budget crisis that forced the shutdown of many government offices Dec. 18.

"Frustration and disgust are the words that come to mind," said one of about 70 furloughed employees of the U.S. Geological Survey in Lawrence.

The USGS office at 4821 Quail Crest Pl. has been among the hardest hit of the federal agencies with offices in Douglas County, with all but one of its employees sent home when the Interior Department's temporary spending authority expired Dec. 18.

"I think that all of us are angry and that all of us feel like pawns in a game," said Walt Aucott, district chief for the USGS in Kansas and the agency's only employee still working in Lawrence.

The agency operates 3,500 stream monitoring stations nationwide, including about 200 in Kansas. They provide flood warning information to the National Weather Service and to city, county and state emergency management agencies.

Aucott said six of the stations in Kansas have become inoperable since the government shutdown and have yet to be repaired. But water levels are low in Kansas, and there's no immediate threat of flooding.

"I'm really concerned about the personal side of what's going on," Aucott said Thursday. "The paycheck that our folks received today was for roughly half pay. That's starting to really hit people. Mortgage payments are coming due and car payments. The prospect of not being paid in the future is having some pretty significant effects on some folks."

Furloughed federal workers said the day-to-day uncertainty about when they'll go back to work and whether they'll get paid for the time off is starting to wear on them.

"Everybody's hoping they'll decide to go ahead and pay everybody, which from our perspective is good but from a national perspective is a lot of pay for nothing," said one USGS employee who, like many federal workers, asked that his name not be published.

"I've got things I need to get done as does everybody else," he said. "We've got reports to get done, and these things are just sitting there."

Among the furloughed USGS employees are about a dozen Kansas University undergraduate and graduate students working on research projects.

"The first week we were off, right before Christmas, it was OK," said one of the students. "It was kind of nice to have the extra hours to do Christmas shopping. Also, I had the flu then, so it was nice to have the time. Now, when you see that first short paycheck, it's not nearly as fun any more."

Nearly all of the 220 employees at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence are still on the job, but they too received paychecks Thursday for about half of what they were owed.

"We were expecting it, so it wasn't a big blow," said Lenora Goombi, a Haskell clerk. She and her husband, a Haskell electrician, have two children.

"My trust is in the Lord, and I've been praying," she said. "I am trusting it's going to be worked out before I have to go into my savings or give up my sitter or stay home and take care of my child.

"The only thing I think about is our creditors. What are they going to say when you explain to them that you can't make the payment or that it's going to be half because your payment at work is half?"

Efforts to plan for the school's spring semester, which begins Jan. 22, have been hindered because most purchases are prohibited. Although the college for American Indians has continued with business as close to normal as possible, Haskell President Bob Martin hinted Thursday that the government shutdown might soon have a more significant impact.

An assistant, Hannes Combest, said that Bureau of Indian Affairs officials in Washington have suggested that the spring semester should be delayed but that Martin has resisted because students will begin arriving soon regardless of whether classes are postponed.

"We're going to have to accept students," Combest said. "We can't turn them out in the cold."

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