How are furloughed workers filling their days?

4:15 PM, Oct 7, 2013   |    comments
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Furloughed federal worker Lisa Jenkins works on a home in Front Royal, Va., with her husband, Scott. (Photo: Star Traylor)

Lisa Jenkins is passionate about her efforts to rehabilitate a rural Virginia home and convert it to a bed and breakfast.

Jenkins has plenty of time for that mission, since she is one of hundreds of thousands of federal employees furloughed since the budget impasse hit the wall Oct. 1. Many of those idled workers are taking on home projects, looking for part-time work or just enjoying their free time until political Washington returns them to their jobs.

Jenkins, 54, says she loves her work in IT for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But the resident of McLean, Va., in suburban Washington says the Mountain Home project in Front Royal, Va., is keeping her busy.

"The house is dilapidated, but we are fixing it up," says Jenkins, a 23-year EPA veteran. "A lot of scraping, caulking and painting. The B&B is our retirement plan."

STORY: Shutdown reaches day 7

Jenkins says a lengthy furlough, even if she ultimately is paid for the time, will mean cash flow problems for her and her husband, Scott, whose job is not affected by the shutdown. Cash flow problems could delay their rehab work.

"I don't want to paint a rosy picture - I want to go back to work," Jenkins says. "But I am definitely staying busy."

For furloughed workers who don't have a retirement plan to work on, there, a website started last week that offers "freelance gigs for furloughed employees." About 40 jobs were on the site Thursday, posted by companies looking for policy analysts, copywriters and even sales people who "must be a closer/rockstar."

Mike Endale is co-owner of web designer Blen, which built the site.

"We were thinking about how we could help, and we came up with this site," Endale says, adding that it drew 20,000 page views in three days with virtually no publicity. "The site actually crashed a couple times because we couldn't keep up. People are using it."

Furloughed government workers took to Twitter on Day 7 of the furlough to decry the time off and update how they are spending the days.

Running errands and cleaning house was a theme on many of the posts. "#shutdown day 7, #furlough day 5, web site upgrades and misc. errands in the rain," wrote one furloughed worker on his feed.

Another wrote, "Furlough day 7. Hauling as many garage sale leftovers that I can fit in my car to the Goodwill."

Others used humor to mark the furlough. "Day 7 of furlough, I guess I will spend the morning getting fat," wrote one furloughed staffer with a photo of five boxes of sugary cereals.

Frank Somera, who works for the Department of Defense, says in a tweet to a reporter, "I've been working around the house. Prioritizing my bills to determine what to pay/delay; Stressful!"

Darrell Bogan, tweeting under @DarrellBogan, was openly appreciative of the back pay Congress was poised to approve, since it will help fund his vacation travels. "Thanks Congress for making this Furlough a paid vacation. Enjoying Chicago!" he tweeted Sunday.

He also sent this tweet: "Since Congress voted to reimburse. I'm vacationing in Chicago. Atlanta then Miami next."

Vantage Fitness in the Washington suburb of Falls Church, Va., saw an increase in members using the gym during the daytime hours last week, says General Manager Lisa Hublitz. The gym also has launched a promotion where furloughed federal employees can get a free one-week guest pass to try the gym out.

In Davie, Fla., Davie Golf and Country Club general manager Danny Boswell says four furloughed workers hit his links early Monday, lured by a half-price offer for furloughed workers.

Judy Pedersen, public information officer for the Fairfax County Parks Authority outside Washington, says last week was one of the biggest in years for the county's eight golf courses.

"We don't have numbers on who was a furloughed worker and who wasn't," Pedersen said. "But we know we had huge crowds last week. You can see how people would want to go out and relieve some of the stress and enjoy the beautiful fall weather."

Contributing: Marisol Bello

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