When Marilyn Johnson, a secretary at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, heard she might be furloughed if Congress and the president fail to agree on a deficit-reducing budget by Monday, she immediately went to her minister and her children's school for help.

Her church pledged to pay the single mother of three's rent for a month and school officials said they would put her children on the free-lunch program. Johnson, who makes $16,305, has begun a search for a part-time job after five years of government service.

"I lay awake a lot of the nights thinking," said the 35-year-old District resident. "I don't know how to plan my life. My budget was real tight anyway."

Johnson and the 1.1 million other federal employees who have received notice they could be furloughed as early as Monday, the start of the government's fiscal year, are at the mercy of the budget negotiators. The stubborn standoff between congressional Democrats and President Bush has sent panicked workers scurrying to plan for cuts in their paychecks that may, in fact, never come.

As Johnson lamented, "I don't have control over my life."

Under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget law, Congress and the administration have until Monday to agree to cut about $105 billion from the $169 billion deficit to stay beneath the law's deficit ceiling. If no agreement is reached or Congress does not push back the deadline, automatic cuts of 32.5 percent in civilian programs and 34.5 percent in defense programs will take effect.

While the "closing-the-Washington Monument syndrome" is a well-worn axiom used to describe the political hype that surrounds this and every budget impasse, Morris Brevard, the monument's lead U.S. park ranger, has been scouting for a job in the fear that the hyperbole will become reality. The monument is scheduled to close next Monday and Tuesday if a budget agreement is not reached.

Brevard, meanwhile, is feeling used.

"I don't understand why they can't figure out what to do," said Brevard, 28, a Maryland resident who helps support a family on $15,059. "It seems as though it will affect the lower person more than the higher one. The president's not going to be furloughed and he's in the government also."

Most departments and agencies are still fine-tuning furlough plans and have not informed employees of the specific days they would be off and say it will be impossible to determine how long furloughs would last. This has made it impossible for workers to accept part-time work, to apply for unemployment benefits or tell potential employers when they will be available.

Employees can be furloughed for up to 22 days a year with simple notification. After that, more complex layoff procedures are required.

Each department and agency has developed its plan on how to absorb the cuts. The number of furlough days varies depending on whether an agency can cut money without cutting hours. Offices where labor costs are a large part of the budget and where there are few capital expenditures will be hard-pressed to avoid deep furloughs.

Social Security benefits, federal retirement and disability benefits, veterans compensation and pensions, state unemployment and many low-income entitlement programs are exempt from cuts, although the employees who administer these benefits are not.

Political appointees subject to Senate confirmation cannot be furloughed and furloughs of congressional staff are left to the discretion of lawmakers. Military personnel also are exempt.

Still, many employees have begun to lay the groundwork for furloughs by attending job fairs hosted by employment agencies and credit counseling sessions set up by some government agencies. They have cut back on small purchases and the larger ones -- the new car or new house -- are on hold.

Or they have sought financial assistance from friends, family or charities.

Stephen Bauer, executive director of the Colorado-based Federal Employee Emergency Assistance Fund, a nonprofit organization that gives financial aid to needy federal workers, said he has received 500 calls for help since the possibility of furloughs was raised. Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio asked for 1,000 applications for assistance, he said.

But with a budget that can handle $5,000 in handouts a month, Bauer does not expect to help everyone. "There's just a tremendous number of employees living from paycheck to paycheck," he said.

Much has been made by the Cabinet-level departments about the effect the automatic budget cuts would have on services to the public, and this week officials were told to turn up the rhetoric to put pressure on Congress and the administration, according to an Interior Department official.

But some budget officials concede that with some important exceptions -- national transportation being one -- the public should not see great cuts in services the first few weeks after the Oct. 1 deadline.

With 350,000 federal employees in the Washington area and the slowest economic growth rate in eight years, there is concern that a lengthy furlough could help tip the region into recession.

The economic impact would reach beyond federal workers. Clerks in stores where furloughed workers are no longer shopping would be laid off, as would waiters in restaurants where federal employees are not eating.

"It's like a house of cards," said Stephen S. Fuller, chairman of the department of urban and regional planning at George Washington University. "Once the federal workers stop spending, there is a ripple effect that accumulates into a significant reduction" in consumer spending here.

For the immediate future, however, federal workers appear to be focusing on their own checkbooks.

After 16 years with the IRS in Greensboro, N.C., Ray Stone, 47, said he is in bad shape because he paid thousands of dollars in unexpected family medical costs last year, which wiped out his savings.

"This is the type of thing that can catch you at a good time or a bad time," he said of the furloughs. "I will get by a week or two with a limited amount of money. After that, I'll have severe cash flow shortages."

Staff writer Anne Swardson contributed to this report.

ESTIMATED NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE RECEIVED FURLOUGH NOTICES

----------------- FROM SELECTED FEDERAL AGENCIES ---------------

Air Force.....................................250,000

Treasury......................................150,000

Health and Human Services.....................102,000

Agriculture...................................100,000

Interior.......................................70,000

Transportation.................................65,000

Justice........................................60,000

Commerce.......................................39,000

NASA...........................................23,000

Labor..........................................18,000

Environmental Protection Agency................16,000

Housing and Urban Development..................13,700

State..........................................12,000

Defense Mapping Agency..........................8,025

Office of Personnel Management..................7,000

Small Business Administration...................5,532

Education.......................................5,000

Smithsonian Institution.........................4,000

Agency for International Development............3,400

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.........3,000

National Labor Relations Board..................2,348

Securities and Exchange Commission..............2,300

Defense (Office of the Secretary)...............2,000

National Archives and Records Division..........2,000

Federal Communications Commission...............1,800

Federal Trade Commission........................1,000

Interstate Commerce Commission....................667

National Endowment for the Arts...................260

Library of Congress...........Not under civil service

rules but bargaining in rules for furloughs.