County Executives, Mayor Urge End to Shutdown: ‘People Are Struggling’

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) (left), Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D), Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D), Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) were in Annapolis on Wednesday calling for federal leaders to end the government shutdown. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

A bipartisan group of leaders from the Baltimore area denounced the partial government shutdown on Wednesday, and they called on federal leaders — President Trump, in particular — to end the suffering of furloughed federal workers by ending the impasse at once.

The leaders, four county executives and the mayor of Baltimore, told reporters in Annapolis that they are being inundated with requests for assistance from federal workers who have now missed two paychecks due to the 33-day shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.

To meet the increasingly desperate outreach for assistance, local governments are encouraging food drives, making free school lunches more available, and urging private-sector companies and utilities to show lenience to customers unable to pay their bills.

“What has happened is unacceptable. I’m angry, I’m frustrated and I’m tired of seeing our people suffer,” said Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D), whose staff organized the press event. “We see the people go into our food banks. We see the constituents worried about their housing, worried about their energy bills. And while we’re trying to take actions every day to make sure we meet those needs, we are concerned. The shutdown has to end.”

President Trump and congressional Democrats are at impasse over his demand for $5 billion to erect a wall on the Mexican border. Though Republicans controlled both houses of Congress for the first two years of Mr. Trump’s presidency, Democrats now control the U.S. House, and Trump has recently started referring to the situation at the border as a “crisis.”

The Baltimore-area leaders, including Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, the lone Republican, said shutting down the government over a policy dispute is wrong.

A former state senator, Glassman said, “In Annapolis, or Bel Air, or our other counties, we just don’t shut down government because we don’t get our way, on either side. It’s not the American way. It’s foolish.”

The leaders said they have been in communication with Maryland’s congressional delegation since the impasse began, with the exception of U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R).

“I believe that our congressional delegation is listening and they do understand,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D).

Of President Trump, Pittman said, “He knows that he’s hurting people. He knows that these agencies are not operating. And I think that’s OK with him.”

While federal workers will eventually get back pay when the shutdown ends, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) noted that the situation is much more dire for people employed by government contractors.

“Even after all this is done, many of them will never see this money again,” he said.

In a radio interview on a Washington, D.C., sports-talk station, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) called the shutdown “wicked” and  referred to the president as “ruthless.”

She told WTEM AM 980 that some furloughed workers are “humiliated” to have to ask for assistance. “There’s no shame in this,” she told host Rick “Doc” Walker.

The county is working to provide out-of-work feds with child care, and a donation from the United Way is making it possible for people who can’t afford gasoline to get a ride via Lyft.

At the start of Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting in Annapolis, each of Maryland’s top fiscal leaders took issue with the shutdown.

The board was preparing to approve a wetlands license for the replacement of the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial/Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge, but Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) said the shutdown was delaying several federal agency approvals, which are “unnecessarily delaying and potentially even putting this project at risk.”

Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D) said that about 4,000 Maryland workers hit by the shutdown have now applied for unemployment.

“It’s all well and good for people to say, ‘Well, if they’re federal workers, they will get their pay eventually,’” Kopp said. “But you can’t live on what you’re going to get eventually, even if that is true. And it’s not true of the contractors, of course.”

Kopp said it was a “ridiculous and pretty disgusting situation” and noted that Maryland’s governor and legislature work together to pass a budget bill every year, the only essential work of the legislative session.

“That’s one thing they can’t ever seem to do in Washington,” Hogan interjected. “When’s the last time they passed a budget?”

Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) said if the shutdown continues through Friday an estimated 172,000 Maryland families will have not received paychecks for a full month, an estimated $1.6 billion in missed wages. The state will continue to feel the impact as well, with an estimated $119 million in income and sales tax revenues that will be missed as of Friday.

“What these eye-popping figures don’t show are the struggles that 172,000 Maryland families are experiencing and the irreversible damage being done to their financial health,” Franchot said. “… You know, some of us are lucky enough to be able to ride through something like this, but a lot of people aren’t.”

Franchot called the shutdown over the border wall “a publicity stunt.”

“And it’s truly shameful at this point,” Franchot said. “It’s time to stop holding the paychecks of hundreds of thousands of federal employees hostage.”

Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.

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