More than 800,000 Americans who keep the government running are on the financial edge because of President Donald Trump.
After one full month since the president shutdown the government, federal workers have resorted to food banks, online fundraising and temporary reprieves on payments to cope with not receiving a paycheck for their work. By the end of this week, the government shutdown will cost just as a much as Trump is demanding for his southern border wall ($5 billion).
“AFGE wants the U.S. Senate to reopen the government as quickly as possible,” said Gabriel Pedreira, legislative and political organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees District 2. “Eight-hundred-thousand workers and their families are currently being held hostage by petty partisan politics. It is time for Leader McConnell to pass the appropriations bills that have already been passed by the House. We can debate immigration and border security at a later date. Bills are piling up for 800,000 workers and their families. The Senate must act now.”
In a week when the nation paused to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., workers’ rights were at the forefront of the conversation. Monday, Food Bank For New York City hosted a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service to help federal workers and other New Yorkers in need during the government shutdown. More than 600 volunteers visited the Food Bank For New York City’s Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem and the Food Bank For New York City’s Warehouse in the Bronx to prep, cook, serve and distribute 1,500 meals to the community. Volunteers also helped prepare and repack food items to be distributed across the city to families affected by the government shutdown.
This annual Day of Service is known as “Done in a Day for MLK.” Both facilities are in areas that face some of the highest rates of food insecurity in all of New York City.
Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank For New York City, said that her organization is doing the best that it can to offset the government’s (in)action.
“The government shutdown has already meant thousands of federal workers and contractors remain unpaid, disrupting the lives and tightening the daily household budgets of many who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and could have a tremendous, damaging ripple effect on vulnerable, low-income families who rely on food assistance programs like SNAP, WIC and TEFAP,” said Purvis in a statement. “While the federal government has assured us that some of these critical survival resources will be fully funded through the end of February, New York City’s emergency food network cannot meet the surge in need that will result if the shutdown continues and funding for SNAP and other essential programs runs out.”
The government shutdown has gone on for so long that some of Trump’s own supporters are starting to blame him for it. A recent survey conducted by NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist University showed that Trump’s net approval rating dropped seven points since December. Among suburban men, who tend to be white, his approval ratings dropped by 18 percentage points net.
Tuesday, the Food Bank For New York City collaborated with Stop & Shop supermarkets to distribute food at the Barclays Center to federal workers affected by the shutdown. The pop-up distribution outlet provided food, “vital products” and other resources.
More than 600 people showed up in three hours.
“To put the capacities of these safety nets and the levels of need they are equipped to handle into broader context, SNAP is our first line of defense against hunger, providing the same number of meals in 10 weeks as the entire emergency food network provides in a full calendar year,” stated Purvis. “With 1.6 million New York City residents relying on SNAP, the heroic efforts of our city’s food pantries and soup kitchens will not be enough to feed every New Yorker who rely on this program.”
“Many of our neighbors in Brooklyn and throughout the city have been directly impacted by the partial government shutdown,” added Heather Hall, senior director of Community Relations for BSE Global and representative for the Barclays Center. “Our venue is a hub for the Brooklyn community and as such, it was important for us to partner with the Food Bank for NYC to help provide food and essentials to those in need.”
On Long Island, New York State Senator Jim Gaughran and the AFGE dropped off donations of food and supplies to Long Island Cares’ Huntington Station location this Thursday as the shutdown entered Day 34.
“The federal shutdown has now lasted more than a month, putting an undue burden on hard working families during a challenging time of year,” said Gaughran. “I’m proud of our efforts to help workers affected by the shutdown and encourage workers to continue calling my office for assistance.”
Trump is holding the government hostage for border wall funding and continued to up the rhetoric about migrants making their way to America. While giving remarks on the alleged humanitarian crisis on the southern border, Trump spouted unfounded claims about the migrants.
“Thousands of children are being exploited by ruthless coyotes and vicious cartels and gangs,” said the president. “One in three women is sexually assaulted on the dangerous journey north. In fact, many loving mothers give their young daughters birth control pills for the long journey up to the United States because they know they may be raped or sexually accosted or assaulted. Nearly 50 migrants a day are being referred for urgent medical care.”
Meanwhile, Purvis said she’ll continue to work with federal workers affected by the shutdown to supplement whatever SNAP and other public assistance programs can’t provide.
“We are working closely with government agencies to better understand the implications if the shutdown lasts into February and urge all New Yorkers to contact their elected officials and let them know that the city’s emergency food network cannot bear the brunt of political gridlock,” she said.
One woman who spoke to the AmNews said she works for the federal government in the Environmental Protection Agency. She said the hardest part is paying bills on time. She is not able to get another job in her field.
“This isn’t my first government shutdown, so I knew what to expect,” she said. “I didn’t think it would last this long. Government worker are public servants and we want to do the work. It’s pretty demoralizing. I just got married—I’ve been using a lot of savings. For a lot of us, our money is running out.”
Akeemah Smith works for the U.S. General Service Administration Public Building Services in the real estate division. She’s been out of work since Jan. 7.
“I’m taking it day by day,” she said. “This president is different. I’m just worried about how I’m going to pay for my daughter’s tuition. I have to pay rent, car note, car insurance. I don’t want to be worried, but I’m hoping something is going to change. I’m just waiting for a text that says we are going back to work.”
Lisa is a state worker and said the shutdown is affecting her friends and family. She’s had to help members of her family financially during the shutdown.
“It’s frightening and it’s devastating because no one knows when it’s coming to an end,” she said. “Everybody is pitching in; we try to help because that’s what families do. When there’s a crisis, we do what we can.”
Monday, restaurateur Melba Wilson opened the doors to her famed Harlem eatery Melba’s and gave free meals to government employees who are out of work because of the government shutdown. She hosted the event with TV personality Bevy Smith and fashion designer Dapper Dan. Wilson said at times like these, the community must come together.
“We are the untold stories often times, so for us to put a face and a name and put arms around each other, that’s what’s important,” Wilson said. “This is not something the government workers did wrong. They are pawns in this game and their lives are being affected by it in ways that we don’t even know.”
Smith said government employees serve the American public and it’s now time for citizens to be of service to them now that they are in need.
“This is an impossible situation and we have to show up and show out and say, ‘You are not alone, we are here to help and our people support you,’” she said. “These are hardworking people. All of us need to check on our neighbors and make sure that the people around us are not suffering in silence.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed SUNY and CUNY to assist students with college-related expenses during the prolonged federal shutdown. Payments for tuition and related college expenses will be postponed, and no late fees or penalties will be charged to affected students. This temporary reprieve will apply to federal employees, dependents of federal employees and students who are dependent on loans from the federal government that may be delayed.
“As the federal shutdown continues to devastate the hardworking men and women of this country, New York’s students are among those hit hardest by Washington’s inaction,” Cuomo said. “We will not stand idly by as the federal administration undermines students’ ability to achieve a higher education, and today’s action will help ensure furloughed federal workers and their families get the support they need during this precarious time.”
“While Trump puts people’s lives at risk and the longest federal shutdown in U.S. history continues, we are stepping up to help New Yorkers,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. “By postponing payments for tuition and other expenses, students can still receive the education they deserve and families who are impacted by the shutdown can get the assistance they need as they face this hardship.”
The move follows the governor’s call for the New York State Department of Labor to provide increased support to workers seeking unemployment insurance benefits and the State’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to help those working without pay apply for and obtain public assistance benefits.
“As the shutdown continues, our campuses have taken extraordinary efforts to accommodate our students, letting them know there are resources to help them return to their studies,” said SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson. “No one should stay home for fear of an extended federal shutdown.”
CUNY Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz said, “We want to assure CUNY students whose families depend on paychecks from federal agencies that the one thing they should not worry about is their tuition payments and other college expenses. The shutdown is forcing so many in New York and across the country to confront financial adversity, but we are committed to opening the new semester without disruption, regardless of the situation in Washington.”