As the government shutdown drags into its fifth week, approximately 11,000 unpaid federal workers in Washington are struggling to make ends meet. With no end in sight, local groups in Whatcom County are stepping forward to lend a hand.
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 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Banks offering 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, WBA president and CEO 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 loans 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 assess the fine print on loans 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.
Reporting by Stefanie Donahue, Aly Siemion and Gwen Roley