Phoenix resident Zachary Friedman is one of the thousands of federal employees who are heading back to work after being furloughed during the recent — and longest ever — federal government shutdown. Last week, President Donald Trump reached a temporary deal with congressional leaders to reopen the government for three weeks.
This was good news for area Jewish residents like Friedman, an attorney for the IRS Chief Counsel, who had to work without pay for several days. Because Friedman was deemed an essential employee, he had been expected to report to work on certain cases he was preparing, with some of his unpaid workdays clocking in at 12 hours. The shutdown, Friedman said, interfered with his efficacy at work.
“I still had to work on all of my cases, but of course, I had less resources to work on them effectively,” Friedman said. “Even though my department isn’t as well known, ultimately I represent the American people at finding a fair solution between them and the IRS. The shutdown negatively affected my ability to carry out my responsibilities.”
According to the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity, the federal government employs about 58,000 people in the state.
Elliott Pollack, CEO of Elliott D. Pollack and Company, an economic and real estate consulting firm in Scottsdale, said the shutdown’s effect on the economy will be temporary, but it will result in this quarter’s GDP probably coming in a half a point lower than
it otherwise would have. The main reason for the drop in GDP is that 800,000 furloughed federal employees will have cut their spending between 10 and 20 percent.
“It’s not only the federal employees, it’s the contractors who are not being paid, and so there’s a ripple effect of that money not being spent,” Pollack said.
Federal workers who were furloughed are expected to receive backpay for the time they weren’t working or working without pay. The checks are expected to be sent out as soon as possible. However, that may not resolve the nation’s economic hiccup.
“The employees probably won’t make up entirely for the spending they cut back on,” Pollack said. “Nobody knows for sure, because it’s never gone this long, but that would be my expectation. The longer this goes, the worse it gets. It affects consumer psychology, and that’s not a good situation.”
Given that the current deal to reopen the government is only for three weeks, there is a distinct possibility that there could be another shutdown if a permanent agreement is not met.
Some organizations like Jewish Free Loan (JFL) and Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) are ready to support federal employees if there is another shutdown.
JFL announced it would provide furloughed employees with emergency loans. Only one loan has been requested so far.
JFCS’ Kathy Rood said the organization’s emergency assistance fund program, Helping Hands, would be there for any furloughed Jewish federal employee.
Many credit unions and the nation’s largest banks were also offering help to furloughed workers with such services as eliminating late fees and offering deferred payments on credit cards, and home and auto loans with no negative reporting to credit bureaus. Federal employees can check their banks’ websites to access phone numbers set aside for them.
Friedman said that even though the shutdown was a severe inconvenience, he felt fortunate to have saved enough money and be in a financially secure place. He knows not everyone is so lucky.
Furloughed federal employees missed two pay periods during the shutdown, forcing many to rely on alternative resources in order to make ends meet.
Julia Almoslino of Ezras Cholim of Phoenix kosher food bank said there was a noticeable increase in people requiring assistance when the shutdown began
“We’re not open just for Jewish families who are in need; we’re open to all families,” Almoslino said. “You’re not here because you have, you’re here because you realize that you need.”
Almoslino said they don’t pry into the lives of people who come to the food bank, so it’s hard for them to know how many people served were government employees. But since the shutdown, they saw about 50 additional people and are prepared for more should another shutdown take place.
Chabad of the East Valley also saw an increase in the number of people using its food bank during shutdown.
For Friedman’s part, he’s glad things are getting back to normal.
“While I am angry about the way the administration treated federal government workers as negotiating leverage during the shutdown, I am happy that I will be going back to work and get to continue to represent the American people in tax controversy matters,” he said. “I hope that both parties remember all the people who were hurt during the shutdown and never use this negotiating tactic again.” JN
Additional reporting by Managing Editor