Federal shutdown takes toll on local employees

As the government shutdown drags into its fifth week, approximately 11,000 unpaid federal workers in Washington state are struggling to make ends meet. With no end in sight, local residents have reportedly been dropping off cookies and Starbucks gift cards at the Point Roberts port of entry, and groups in Whatcom County and elsewhere are stepping forward to lend a hand.
Point Roberts Food Bank
The local food bank has been working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection port director Brad Denson to help soften the blow for local federal employees and their families affected by the government shutdown.
“Whatever he says they need, we will try and suppy,” said food bank director Henry Rosenthal. “They know we are all part of the same community and we’ll do whatever it takes.”
Two weeks into the reduction in government services that saw some of the officers at the local port of entry go without a paycheck, Rosenthal said the food bank put together 350 pounds of canned and packaged food and took it to the border for management to distribute as they saw fit. Rosenthal said community members, such as golf course cook Roger Gookstedder, have been taking hot food over, like pizzas. “They’re getting lots of food,” Rosenthal said.
Efforts to help pay for gas for those who work at the Point Roberts border and live on the mainland were stymied because the federal government prohibits any individual government employee from accepting more than $20 in gifts per year, Rosenthal said.
Operation Shutdown Fun
Several businesses in Whatcom County are offering free or reduced-fee activities to federal workers and their families.
“Being in their situation is stressful and having an hour or two of fun gives them a reprieve from that reality,” said Suzanne Westcott-England.
Westcott-England is the organizer of Operation Shutdown Fun, which is a Facebook page that allows federal workers to find free or reduced-fee activities offered by businesses in Whatcom County. Participating Whatcom County businesses include Sportsplex, Perch & Play, Love to Move Studioz and Lynden Skateway, among others.
To learn more, visit the Operation Shutdown Fun page on Facebook or email Westcott-England at swestcottengland@gmail.com.
Banks offer loans
The Washington Bankers Association (WBA) announced many member banks would be offering assistance for furloughed federal workers.
Banks have a variety of options available for federal employees not receiving a paycheck during the shutdown, such as special short-term loans with low rates. Services can vary from bank to bank, but some are working one-on-one with members to manage unique solutions for this challenging financial period.
“It can be very hard not knowing when your next paycheck is coming, and I am heartened to see our members reducing some of that uncertainty,” said Glen Simecek, president and CEO of WBA in the release. “I encourage anyone affected by the shutdown to reach out to their own financial institution.”
The Washington Bankers Association listed 1st Security Bank of Washington, Baker Boyer Bank, Bank of America, Banner Bank, Cashmere Valley Bank, First Federal KeyBank, Kitsap Bank, JPMorgan Chase, Sound Community Bank, Union Bank, U.S. Bank, Washington Federal and Wells Fargo as those providing plans for federal workers.
Members will have to contact their individual bank for details about payment and eligibility.
Whatcom Educational Credit Union (WECU) began promoting loan programs for furloughed government employees last week.
According to WECU’s website, federal workers that are affected by the shutdown can apply for a short-term loan at zero percent APR, to be paid back at the end of 90 days, or a longer-term loan at six percent APR, which has a maximum length of 48 months.
Government workers are also being encouraged to apply for the WECU Skip-a-Pay program to postpone payments on current loans while they are not receiving pay. The Skip-a-Pay program can only be applied to one monthly payment per loan within a 12-month period, according to WECU’s website.
WECU members are being urged to read the fine print on loans and assess funds before applying to ensure the available programs do not further negatively impact their finances.
To apply for the available programs for federal employees, members must show proof they are affected by the shutdown (they recommend a letter from an employer) and a recent pay stub.
Blaine Food Bank
The Blaine Food Bank, located at 500 C Street, will open its doors exclusively to federal workers and their families between noon and 2 p.m. on Saturday, January 26.
“The border has always supported us,” said volunteer Sally Church of CBP agents. “So many of these people are a part of this community.” Currently, CBP administrative offices are closed and non-essential CBP functions can’t be performed.
Church said the Blaine Food Bank isn’t in need of extra volunteer assistance, but is accepting donations. There is a particular need for diapers, toilet paper, paper towels and baby food, she said.
“We have no idea what kind of volume we’re going to have,” she said. “We are here to meet whatever need they may have.”
Guests are encouraged to bring identification, verifying federal employment.
Reporting by Meg Olson, Stefanie Donahue, Aly Siemion and Gwen Roley

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