There weren’t a lot of high points of the recent government shutdown, but there was one: the commitment of communities to help people in need. In the Upstate, many businesses and community organizations found ways to help furloughed employees get through a tough time. Here’s a shout out.
By Erin Basinger
When the new fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2018, only five of 12 appropriations bills had been passed, meaning the government agencies funded by the remaining seven were relying on short-term extensions to their funding. President Trump demanded that all further extensions include more than $5.5 billion to fund the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Beginning on December 21, the deadline from the most recent extension, departments relying on extended funding were shut down, although employees considered “essential” (those in public safety and law enforcement) were expected to continue working without pay. The government shutdown lasted 35 days, the longest in U.S. history.
Federal employees faced a number of challenges from struggling to pay bills, losing housing allowances (as Coast Guardsmen do), to being forced to work without pay while having to find another job to help pay rent and food bills.
Is it really over?
Using federal employees as pawns in a political game of chicken was a first but possibly not the last. And we’ll know next week. February 15 is the deadline for the Congressional conference committee to have come up with an agreed-upon compromise budget bill that addresses immigration and funds the Department of Homeland Security. Trump, who has expressed serious doubts there will be success, indicated in his address to the nation that if Congress does not agree to fund the wall before the February 15th deadline, he will either shut down the government again or declare a state of national emergency to acquire funding for the wall.
Where did affected federal employees go for help?
Hundreds of thousands of federal employees were impacted by the government shut down. At a local level, several organizations offered assistance to furloughed employees. This is not a complete list and we can’t begin to know about all the churches, community food banks, and community organizations that offered assistance. We do want to give them a shout out, though, so add a comment to recognize other organizations you may be familiar with.
- YMCA: The YMCA worked with members to maintain their membership during the shutdown, and non-members were invited to visit for free as a guest (864-412-0288 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Vintage Barbers: Free haircuts were offered to furloughed workers on Tuesdays and Thursdays (bring federally issued identification; appointment required; 864-552-1462)
- Lowe’s Hot Dog Cart: Free food until two weeks after shutdown ends (1131 Woodruff Road; 864-901-2549)
- Tipsy Taco: Free tacos and beer to furloughed workers (bring federally issued identification)
- Hall of Fame Sports Grill: Free meals to furloughed employees (864-609-4181)
- Harvest Hope Food Bank: Emergency food bank in Greenville (803-254-4432)
- Mill Village Farms: Offered free FoodShare produce boxes to 100 families (2 per family). www.millvillagefarms.org.
- Greenville Spartanburg Airport: Collected food donations for TSA agents and other furloughed employees to be distributed through Harvest Hope Food Bank (deliver through valet entrance)
- Verizon, AT&T, Sprint: All provided flexible payment options to customers
Additionally, Fox Carolina reported these:
- Chase: Chase Bank says it will waive or refund any overdraft and monthly service fees for customers who are furloughed government employees.
- Discover: Impacted federal workers who are Discover cardmembers or have a loan with Discover Bank may be eligible for assistance such as skipping a payment and having late fees and interest charges reversed if they miss a payment because of the shutdown. To request assistance, call 800-347-3085.
- U.S. Employees Credit Union: Impacted union members who have direct deposit of their government pay may be eligible for interest-free loans. According to its website, the Government Shutdown Loan is to be “repaid in 60 days or when the government processes back pay, whichever is sooner.”
- YMCA: Several YMCA locations across the country are offering free workout locations for furloughed government workers and their families.
Erin Basinger is an assistant professor of health communication at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, NC. She lives in the Upstate and is a volunteer with the GCDP communications team.