Help for furloughed workers
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To pay or not to pay — that is the question that hundreds of thousands of workers in the United States are having to answer when facing bills this month as the government shutdown enters its 29th day Saturday.
The U.S. Federal Reserve reports 44 percent of Americans wouldn't be able to cover a $400 emergency expense out of pocket, and studies show that millions of Americans would find themselves behind if they missed just one payday.
Nationally and locally, the shutdown is affecting airport workers, food inspectors, Internal Revenue Service employees, national parks and more.
What complicates matters is that many federal employees have never been in this predicament and are prohibited from talking to the press or publicly asking for assistance. Federal workers are allowed to accept only $20 gift cards at a time from a single donor or other non-cash items such as food, water, etc.
Some federal workers who reached out to the Times Free Press anonymously said many of them are "paycheck-to-paycheck people who are being severely affected." Workers are considering taking early retirement, while the number of federal workers in Tennessee applying for unemployment insurance more than doubled in the past 10 days to 900 claims, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
One anonymous federal employee said they appreciate the help but many are also proud, have never had to ask for help and don't want to publicize their current situation.
"Yes, the struggle is real, the morale is very low, but we are professionals and take public safety seriously, often putting it above our own needs and desires," they wrote. "So, thank you everyone for the kindness and generosity, as it is needed and highly appreciated, but for many of us, being publicized is not worth it."
The Chattanooga Area Food Bank delivered roughly 100 "emergency food boxes" to federal workers at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport on Thursday, according to Sophie Moore, director of community outreach for the food bank. Moore said they are preparing to help those affected by the shutdown in the coming weeks, or possibly months, as seriously and strategically as they would prepare for an impending natural disaster.
"Many federal government employees who have never experienced food insecurity before may need our intervention and food assistance for the very first time," Moore said.
If the shutdown continues, other programs such as SNAP, WIC and free/reduced school meal programs may be affected, putting additional pressure on families and the Chattanooga Area Food Bank's existing resources, according to Moore.
While estimates state 800,000 federal workers are going without pay during the shutdown, LaTricia Schobert said it's also affecting agencies and employees who rely on federal grants, such as the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, who aren't technically considered "federal employees." Schobert is executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service, a division of Partnership FCA that provides clients of all income levels with financial counseling.
Partnership FCA's domestic violence shelter utilizes federal grant funding and shelter employees are no longer being paid through the grant, Schobert said. Fortunately, the nonprofit is large enough and has enough in reserves to continuing paying the employees, she said.
Schobert said that almost every client that walks through Consumer Credit Counseling's door feels ashamed and as if they put themselves in a tough financial situation. But, as Schobert explains, this government shutdown is not the fault of federal employees.
The counseling agency is not charging anybody affected by the government shutdown for counseling services. Potential clients can call their office at 423-490-5620 to set up an appointment.
"I just want to emphasize to people to really prioritize what they do pay for at this time," Schobert said. "Focus on housing, eating and medication — the basic necessities — and everything else can wait until later."
Many financial agencies are providing help for federal workers, including Wells Fargo, Ally Financial, Discover, U.S. Bank, Navy Federal Credit Union, Chase, Better Mortgage, Bank of America and more.
About 25 years ago, Schobert was a client of the counseling agency and needed help with her finances. Now, as the director, she said she can understand how it might feel shameful or like a mistake was made. One of her own family members is affected by the shutdown and has had to ask for assistance from others.
"I keep telling her that you have given in the past and it's time for you to receive," Schobert explained. "When you get stable again and back on your feet then you can give back to somebody else who needs it."
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk Collins at email@example.com, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.