The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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October 12, 2013

Shrunken paychecks turn up



"A lot of our members have been asking to skip a payment," said Pamela Hout, chief executive of the Census Federal Credit Union. Her staff has been working a few hours a week at the nearly deserted Census Bureau headquarters in Prince George's County, Md. to meet the demand. "We've been accommodating them; all they have to do is show us their [furlough] letter."

The Ferrises, who lived through the shutdowns of the mid-1990s as young EPA staffers, moved fast to get cash, taking out a loan from their federal retirement program to cover the mortgage for two months. If the standoff goes longer, they will consider a second note on their house to keep bill-paying money on hand.

"I'm the kind of guy who really would be up every night worried about how to pay the mortgage," John Ferris said.

Caroline Fernandez spent part of the week applying for unemployment benefits as a way to generate carry-over income while she and her husband are furloughed. She works on homelessness-prevention programs for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Her husband produces reading material for the blind at the Library of Congress. The couple, who live in Takoma Park, Md., never expected to find themselves struggling the way many of their clients do.

"Here we were serving these marginalized populations, and now we've been marginalized," David Fernandez-Barrial said.

Social service agencies and health-care providers in the area reported an uptick in federal workers asking for help or doing without as the shutdown vise tightened on family budgets.

Lori Alexander, a physical therapist in Alexandria, Va., said many of her patients in the federal workforce have dropped treatments to save the co-pay.

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