The atrium at the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn is typically filled with a stream of excited basketball fans, but last week the scene was entirely different. The cavernous space was stacked with groceries (milk, fruit, and vegetables) and personal-care items (diapers, baby shampoo) for federal workers who have been living without paychecks because of the partial government shutdown.
More than 600 federal workers showed up at arena to take advantage of the emergency pop-up shop, organized by the Food Bank for New York City and BSE Global, the company behind Barclays Center and the Nets basketball team, who also handed out free game tickets.
While President Trump announced a deal with congressional leaders on Jan. 25 to temporarily reopen the government, workers are not completely out of the woods. The deal would reopen government departments for three weeks while Congress works on a border security package. But if a “fair deal” does not emerge by Feb. 15, Trump said, there could be another government shutdown, the Washington Post reported.
Thousands of federal workers across the U.S. have been stretched to the limit, struggling to pay rent and put food on the table since the shutdown on Dec. 24. About 800,000 workers have been affected, more than half of them deemed essential staff and required to work without compensation.
Across the U.S., there has been an outpouring of support from businesses and nonprofit organizations to offer essential items, financial relief, and professional advice to federal workers caught in the bind. “We’re here to help our customers, whether they’re a government worker, a government contractor or simply an employee at the diner across from a shuttered federal office,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon wrote in a note to the bank’s employees.
In Brooklyn, some workers came with kids in tow, and some left work to pick up necessities. “In my own household, myself and my husband are federal government workers, so that’s two paychecks not coming in,” said a federal correctional officer, who asked not to be named. “And we have small children at home that we have to care for, child-care expenses to pay while we still go to work and not get compensated. So it’s very stressful.”
Making matters worse, some cash-strapped workers haven’t been able to afford transportation to their no-pay jobs. As a remedy, the correctional officer said her managers offered to allow workers to sleep overnight in the facility. A spokesperson for Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center said that it was just one of several measures put in place to assist the workers. “One avenue is providing interested staff with sleeping accommodations in a secure and empty part of the institution,” the spokesperson said in an email. “At no time are staff sleeping in inmate occupied areas.”
Thoughts of having a Brooklyn pop-up shop for federal workers first began when the shutdown started, said Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank for NYC. But it quickly became a commitment when they heard that February’s food stamps would be distributed in January instead, leaving families without support for next month.
“I think all of us can connect to the power of missing a paycheck,” Purvis said. “They’ve now missed two. These are the people who protect us, who make our government run.”
At the Brooklyn event, 600 volunteers showed up over the holiday weekend to pack food bags in preparation for the giveaway. The event also had a staffed table where attendees could learn more information about SNAP (food stamp) enrollment and where and how to file taxes.
Bruce McClary, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, compared the national outpouring of support to the response to a natural disaster. “Not in my recollection has there been such a universal response,” McClary told USA Today. “The only difference is this is a man-made disaster.”
Among other companies and organizations offering help:
The crowdfunding company, GoFundMe, found a way to help workers who are struggling to afford groceries or other household necessities during the shutdown. The company created a fundraiser for furloughed federal employees, with a goal of $200,000. The company reached its goal on Tuesday, just three days after it launched the campaign.
Funds raised will be distributed to nonprofits across the U.S. that provide workers with hot meals, personal-care necessities, and household items.
“I hope the shutdown ends soon,” GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon wrote in a statement. “In the meantime, please join me and help our fellow Americans by providing some short term relief. This is not about politics. This is lending a helping hand to someone in need.”
Car payments can be one of the most expensive bills that come due each month. Hyundai announced that it will defer all loan and lease payments for federal workers for one month during the shutdown.
“We recognize that there are many federal employees who are Hyundai owners and are not receiving their normal paycheck,” Brian Smith, chief operating officer of Hyundai Motor America, told Business Insider. “Hyundai is a brand that aims to make things better for its customers and this is our way of showing customers ‘we have your back’ during this uncertain time.”
In Dallas, Texas, this property-management company is deferring payments on rentals for federal employees. The company is working individually with affected renters on deferring January and February rent payments. Renters must simply show a furlough letter or proof of employment with an affected government agency.
“This is a unique nationwide situation, and we view it as an opportunity to demonstrate how deeply we appreciate the work that our civil servants and military men and women do for our country,” Chaz Mueller, Progress Residential’s CEO, told Forbes. “We recognize the hardship that many of our residents may be facing due to the government shutdown and want to alleviate the anxiety those families are facing.”
In light of the shutdown, PayPal set aside $25 million through its PayPal Credit program dedicated to furloughed government workers. Federal employees are eligible for an interest-free cash advance of up to $500 if they are new or existing customers. The program will end when employees receive their first paycheck after the shutdown ends.
“Setting up this fund to assist federal workers in their time of need is our way of giving back to the communities we are a part of,” PayPal CEO Dan Schulman told CNBC. “I think it’s really important that CEOs think about their companies as part of the communities they live in—and serve. When you do the right thing, good things come back multifold to you.”
Major Telecom Companies
T-mobile, AT&T and Verizon announced in early January their plans to help customers affected by the shutdown. Federal employees are able to speak with a customer service representative about rescheduling payments. All three companies will waive late fees.
During the shutdown, U.S. Bank has offered several options for its customers. The first is a small low-rate loan between $100 and $6,000, available for customers who any type of U.S. Bank product.
When the shutdown occurred in December, Chase bank reached out to customers to offer help, automatically refunding their checking account overdraft and service fees. The bank also activated its Special Care Line (888-356-0023) with a team of specialists who have extended payments on customers’ car loans, provided 90-day relief on their mortgages, and removed minimum payments on their credit cards.
In his message to employees, Chase CEO Dimon added that the banking company is committing $1 million to Feeding America and United Way Worldwide to provide meals, financial services, counseling, and other assistance to federal workers and their families in need.
The company launched new low-rate, quick loan for customers needing assistance during the shutdown. The bank is offering mortgage-relief options as well. Affected customers can call its designated government shutdown line to speak with a representative.
“U.S. Bank is committed to doing the right thing for our customers,” stated Andy Cecere, the company’s CEO. “We understand the financial pressure that many of our customers who serve our nation are now facing and we’re here to help.”
Judging by the response of federal workers in Brooklyn, the helping hand hasn’t been taken for granted. “This is a lot,” the correctional officer said. “It’s heartwarming to know that the city is really coming together to help us federal employees and realize the impact it does have on our families,” she said. “It makes me feel very good and restored my faith in society, because we were losing it for awhile.”
New York’s Food Bank has a webpage to help furloughed workers locate their nearest food pantry or soup kitchen.
This story was originally published on The Bridge, a website about business in Brooklyn.