More than 600 people attended a community potluck organized by Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker for furloughed federal government employees Friday evening. Credit: David Asche

As the partial federal government shutdown continues, county leaders say furloughed employees’ morale is dipping, but dozens of organizations continue to offer assistance.

About 172,000 furloughed Maryland workers are losing $778 million in wages every two weeks, which equates to roughly $57.5 million less in state and local income tax withholding, according to a report released Monday by the state comptroller’s office.

Federal contractors likely won’t receive back pay, so state and local tax collections would not be regained, the report said.

More than 600 people showed up to a potluck dinner for off-the-job employees Friday night at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, surpassing expectations, Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker said.

Assisted by several nonprofits and restaurants in Montgomery County, Hucker organized the dinner in about five days in an effort to help federal employees who didn’t receive pay on Friday as the shutdown neared its third week.

Volunteers pass out food to attendees of Friday night’s potluck at Montgomery Blair High School. (Photo courtesy of David Asche)

“I’ve heard from so many individuals that they really appreciated the chance to get out of their house with their families and eat a meal and take their minds off of everything for a little while,” said Hucker, who represents District 5 (Burtonsville/Silver Spring/Takoma Park). “They’re struggling to make rent, car and mortgage payments and that’s a big burden.”

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Along with the dinner, representatives from various county agencies attended to provide assistance for those furloughed employees needing help accessing emergency food and housing and other services.

If the shutdown, now in its 24th day, continues, Hucker said he is considering holding another dinner, but noted the strain local businesses are feeling while government employees cut costs.

“These restaurant owners that volunteered time and food are struggling with their own bottom line in all of this, so it was really great to have their help Friday,” Hucker said. “We’ll have to have discussions about if another dinner is feasible for them.”

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Other groups are offering assistance to affected federal employees and contractors.

Montgomery County Public Schools will hold employment open houses for furloughed employees on Tuesday and Friday. The school system will take applications and conduct interviews for teaching, substitute teaching, maintenance, security and clerical positions.

The open house is geared toward federal employees and contractors considering career changes, not to make temporary hires, school spokesperson Derek Turner said.

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“We know some people affected might be thinking about career changes, so this is a good time to be exposed to career possibilities at MCPS,” Turner said. “It’s a two-way street because we’re always looking to expand our substitute teaching pool and fill our vacancies, too.”

The school system is also providing free meals through the Dine with Dignity program for affected families who can’t pay lunch bills during the shutdown. The Dine with Dignity program was launched in November and allows students with negative account balances to continue receiving school lunches at no cost.

The county government has launched a website listing available resources, on which County Executive Marc Elrich urges landlords and business owners to create systems to help furloughed employees.

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The county parks department is offering discounted admission to ice skating rinks and indoor tennis facilities, and several nonprofit food pantries have waived income requirements to receive food assistance.

Rockville is offering delayed payment plans for some city bills, including animal registration fees, preschool and before and after school care.

Additionally, companies such as Pepco, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Washington Gas and Verizon and T-Mobile, and the regional utility Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, are offering flexible payment plans for bills or waiving late fees.

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There are an estimated 80,000 federal employees in Montgomery, about one-fifth of the county’s workforce.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdda-remix.newspackstaging.com