The telephones in the office of Rep. G.K. Butterfield are ringing off the hook with calls from constituents who've been furloughed due to the federal government shutdown.
"They're saying they want to go back to work; they have obligations to meet," the North Carolina lawmaker told BET.com. "This thing is having a devastating effect on workers all across the country. African-Americans are suffering disproportionately because they're disproportionately represented in the federal government."
African-Americans working in the federal workplace represent to a large extent the Black middle class, said Rep. Charles Rangel (New York). Deeming them non-essential and sending them home during the shutdown could have a detrimental effect on their families and their communities.
The Social Security Administration on Tuesday announced that 16,000 employees in Rep. Elijah Cummings' Baltimore district would be furloughed.
"That's a lot of people," said the Maryland lawmaker. "And across the country, hundreds of thousands of people on furlough don't know whether they're going to be paid for these days."
In past shutdowns, they've been paid retroactively, "but in the climate we're in today, I think there's a 50-50 shot that they'll get paid, which is devastating," Cummings added.
He also worries about the people who depend on the services that African-Americans will have to do without, such as the ability to apply for Medicare, disability and other benefits.
Rep. Karen Bass added to the list the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, that is used by low-income African-American and Latino families. More than 8.9 million mothers and children depend on WIC for food vouchers, baby formula and other nutrition needs.
The USDA announced on Oct. 1 that it would suspend the program as a result of the shutdown. States will only be able to continue operating the program for "a week or so" before the money runs out.
"So you've got people losing services, people losing pay and you've got a situation where uncertainty is created," lamented Cummings. "You cannot put a dollar value on uncertainty, but it makes it almost impossible for people to make decisions about spending. They're reluctant to spend and that has a spiraling effect in our community."
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(Photo: AP Photo/Steve Helber)