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Federal Workers Stretching Their Last Paycheck

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Lots of businesses are offering free or discounted food, entertainment and services to furloughed federal workers.

Complimentary college courses are even available from Georgetown University.

But even with the charity coming from all corners of the community, workers are starting to sweat in week three of the partial federal government shutdown.

More than 800,000 federal workers were affected at first, though the Pentagon has since recalled most of its idled 350,000 employees.

WNEW’s John Domen reports that the last paycheck sent to furloughed feds was about 60 percent of what they’re accustomed to. It’s not yet clear when they will get their next check, or if they will get back pay for the weeks of work they’ve missed.

Therefore, that 60 percent will have to last.

Wealthstream Advisors President and CPA Michael E. Goodman tells WNEW that keeping the lights on should be the first priority, followed by paying any bills that will affect credit.

When the credit card bill comes, though, he suggests paying less than the full amount due if things are really tight.

Goodman says those with IRA accounts can take out 60-day loans, but those funds will need to be returned within those 60 days. Taking out of savings is also an option.

“You want to be prudent, you want to make sure you put it back wherever you took it from and maybe even add some extra,” Goodman says. “So there’s your emergency reserve recoup or the beginnings of your future emergency reserve.”

Dan Madrzykowski, a fire protection engineer from Damascus, Md., has worked for the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg for 28 years.

His biggest worry about the shutdown is that NIST won’t be able to recruit and retain young researchers because government work no longer has the stability that once made it attractive.

“I’m old. My wife works. We’ve got a little bit of a cushion,” he said last week. “But for young people in a metro area, they’re barely making it. We’ve lost several young people to private industry.”

But government workers outside the D.C. Metro area are struggling, too.

Darquez Smith, of Xenia, Ohio, found himself furloughed from his job with the National Park Service just as his fiancee is due to give birth to their daughter later this month.

Smith, 23, is spending his time off looking for a new job. Working as a park ranger at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, which tells the story of the Wright brothers, is his only source of income.

“Mentally, it’s definitely no fun at all,” he said. “It’s never fun to be out of work and not have the ability to go to work, and still have bills to pay.”

Smith is looking for work in information technology and is pursuing an IT degree at Central State University.

By the time rent is due Nov. 1, Smith said he’ll need to be back at his Park Service job or have found other work. Utility bills and car insurance will soon follow, along with the added costs of raising a newborn.

“For me as a student, a full-time worker paying all the bills myself, with a lot of responsibilities, there’s never really a day off or a fun day,” he said.

Donna Cebrat, who makes her living processing requests for public access to FBI records in Savannah, Ga., is focused on stretching each dollar of her savings under the assumption she might not be able to return to work for a month or longer.

“Instead of having a dinner, I’ll have a bowl of cereal. Maybe for dinner and lunch. Or maybe I’ll go down to McDonald’s for a hamburger off the dollar menu,” said Cebrat, 46. “Lots of budget cuts. Not that I was living extravagantly before.”

She lives alone in a middle-class suburb and estimates the money in her savings account could last her anywhere from two to six months.

She checks headlines for any news on negotiations between the president and Congress, but said she avoids reading full stories or watching shutdown reports on TV that would only bring her down further.

“I don’t need to see the name-calling,” Cebrat said. “I just need to see the headline.”

WNEW’s John Domen contributed to this report. Follow him and WNEW on Twitter.

(TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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