While the Food Bank would normally be closed in observance of Martin Luther King Day, staff and volunteers were on-site today to pack food and provide a special food distribution to people being impacted by the government shutdown: federal employees, people who are receiving federal benefits but are feeling uncertain and any of our neighbors facing food insecurity.
I want to share with you what we heard today from neighbors who frankly never expected to find themselves at a Food Bank to receive help. These stories are shared without names attached because many of these workers have jobs that require they remain anonymous.
From IRS worker (recalled worker, working without pay)
“We’re just running so low. My husband had surgery last month and hasn’t been working. He is receiving some help from his union, but it is getting tough to manage bills. I work for the IRS and have been called back to work without pay. Because of my age, I’m able to use public transportation for low cost. But as bills continue to come in, we’re drawing down our savings to cover them. Receiving food today helps.”
From an IRS law enforcement worker (essential employee, working without pay)
“I’ve never had to worry before about paying bills. Now, we’re probably good through the beginning of March, but only because we’re getting help. I am required to work, so I can’t apply for unemployment, and I can’t apply for even a part time job because I have to get approval for that, and no one is here to give that approval.
For my job, a good credit score is required. I can’t skip or miss payments. So I’m in a position to ask myself, do I pay a bill or do I eat? Do I feed the dogs or do I eat?
Because I work in law enforcement for the government, I work 50 hours a week, and my job can be dangerous. Because I’m not getting paid, coverage for my benefits — health and life insurance — feels at risk. Those payments are being withheld from my check. Is the government paying in? If something happens to me on the job, do I have the coverage I need?
And we have savings that we are using, but what happens when that is gone? I’ve been able to get my truck payment deferred, but I got no help from my mortgage company. They offered me an additional loan at 8% interest. Next, I’ll be looking to defer my student loan payments. I don’t know if that will affect my credit score. I’ve just always been able to make ends meet and have a little left to save.
Coming in for food helps ease the burden, but it is really hard. It feels like I am taking something that should go to someone else. I have a good job. I’m just not getting paid. It is so hard to swallow my pride and ask for help. But friends are helping, and we are keeping track. We are going to pay it back and pay it forward to charities they support.
It’s hard for coworkers too. Especially call center folks who will be coming in this week. My job is better compensated and this is hard for me. It will be harder for them. While they were furloughed, they were able to receive unemployment, but that will end now that they have been recalled.
It feels like everyone has dug in, and it is really hurting people.”
From spouse of IRS law enforcement worker
“This has been a huge psychological struggle. It is hard to ask for help while you are working. This just feels like a hostage situation with people’s lives, children and homes in the middle.”
Coastguard worker (working without pay) and spouse
“We moved here a year and a half ago from Florida, and then found out we were expecting our first baby. I’m a full time mom and am going to school to get my bachelors degree. It’s hard to do that without family nearby. Relying on one income and now working with no pay makes it so much harder. I’m looking at getting an online job and have passed the first interview, but who knows. And we certainly can’t afford childcare right now. Even diapers are a challenge.”
“I’ve been with the Coastguard for eight years, and we’ve faced situations like this before with shutdowns, but there was always a last minute save. A resolution that kept us working with pay. Now I’m dipping in to savings to cover our mortgage. I have family nearby, brothers, but they have families and kids of their own. They have offered to help, but I don’t feel right taking from them because I know they are just making ends meet too. The past three weeks, we’ve been doing nothing but staying home. Going nowhere to save gas. Even coming here today was a tough choice because I had to think about the gas we would use.
We are pulling from our savings, our IRA, but doing that has real ripple effects that are long lasting. Like taking out loans. Things that will help right now will hurt us later.
The immediate help is good — the groceries, the gas card, the diapers — and I was able to get a pay advance through the Red Cross that will have to be repaid. Along with a loan that will cover half of what my paycheck would be, that will help us get by for now with our mortgage. But if we miss this next check, our car payment and utility bills will be a big worry.”
From EEOC staffer (furloughed, Army veteran)
“I’ve recently applied for unemployment but haven’t gotten any word if I’ll qualify. I’m also trying to unlock some of the benefits that are available to retired veterans but everything requires so much paperwork. Bank statements, pay stubs, countless applications. I’m having trouble figuring out everything that I need to pull together and it seems like no help is available unless you’ve fallen 30 days behind.
I have custody of my 4-year old grandson, and I also care for my mother. As soon as I climb out of the hole, you get pushed back in. I recently applied for an emergency loan through my bank (Citizens Bank). Waiting to hear on that. My account is currently overdrawn.”
From an IRS employee (essential employee, working full time without pay)
“I work customer service and am a 28-year employee. The tax filing season is underway so the calls are coming in. I have never reached out for help before and this is hard. I’m struggling to stay ahead, and I’m not able to file for unemployment. I’ve started delivering for Grub Hub and Script Fleet to make some extra income and try and not get too far behind. With working full time and trying to supplement with these delivery jobs, I’m working round the clock. Church and friends have been a god send. I am so thankful to get some help today.
It just feels like there is no end in sight. Both sides are holding their ground.”
FAA employee (essential employee, working full time without pay, county airport)
“We are a single-income family. I’m the working mom of 2 kids, one 3-months-old and one 21-months-old). Their dad is stay-at-home caregiver. I heard about the food distribution through my union. I’ve always thought that I had a secure job–this is scary. I reached out to our mortgage company and got a three-month extension which is helpful. Our local utility companies have also offered to waive late fees. But, it’s hard to keep morale up. It’s hard with the extra stress.
I am encouraging my co-workers to take advantage of the resources being offered by the community. The community being willing to help is the bright spot in this.”
FAA employees (essential employees, working full time without pay, county airport)
One is a 10-year employee, other just started in August
“For those that are more established in their careers, you are starting to wonder how long this is going to last and how much you have saved before you really get in to trouble. The help we are getting today helps things stretch. For those that are new in their career, they don’t have the savings, making a lower wage. The impact is immediate.”
Shorter tenure FAA: “I tried to get an extension on paying my rent. My landlord is taking me to court.”
How can we help?: “People aren’t used to asking for help. They don’t know where to go or how to even start to understand what is out there. Federal employees are scattered all over the place so trying to catch people close to where they live or work is helpful.”
Federal employee (working without pay)
“I have worked for the government for almost 7 years, first in the military. My husband and I just moved here so I could take this job. We came right after Thanksgiving. He is still looking for work, so right now, we are a one-income home working with no pay.
We are renting here because our house is still on the market out of state. If we miss my next check…I don’t know what we will do. I can’t get another job because I work rotating shifts, and we have savings, but we are burning through it.”
Federal employee (working without pay)
“This is my first ‘real’ job and my first apartment on my own. I’m covering my bills with my savings, and my parents have offered to help if I need it. This is really hard. I never thought I’d be asking for help with food.”