As of last week, according to The New York Times, furloughed federal workers around the country had lost on average around $5,000 so far—well below the threshhold of many families to make ends meet. This is what happens when our federal government is four weeks into a partial shutdown thanks to Presidential/Congressional inability to govern.
In Philadelphia, home to 45,000 federal workers, that means thousands of people struggling to pay bills without paychecks. The shutdown could also mean thousands of others facing potential hardships because they may not be able to access benefits, like Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, WIC (for Women, Infants and Children), housing vouchers and some other services. While February SNAP benefits were released early in January, for example, hunger relief workers are worried that families may not realize they’re not getting anything else until March—which could send them scrambling for food within weeks.
“Washington is not going to fix this problem. We’re going to have to do that here, in the community,” says Marianne Fray, of the Maternity Care Coalition.
Several city agencies and utilities have announced ways to offer some temporary relief in bills and/or interest on unpaid bills—often through pre-existing programs. And hopefully,
our esteemed leaders in the Capitol will resolve this in the next several days—though it’s hard to say how likely that is.
Until then, we can do our part to make things a little easier for those caught in the political maelstrom. As Marianne Fray, of Philly’s Maternity Care Coalition puts it, “Washington is not going to fix this problem. We’re going to have to do that here, in the community.”
Here, a few ideas to get you started. Let us know if you have others.
Thanks to a plea from local workers during a public event a couple weeks ago, Philabundance launched its first ever emergency food market in Philly, open every Wednesday from 10 am to 11 am for folks with federal IDs under the 1-95 overpass at Front and Tasker streets. Philabundance, which already feeds some 90,000 people in the area every week, distributed food to about 250 people this week, with the help of Share Food Program, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and Campbell Soup Company. It needs donations to keep it going until workers get paid again, and may be extra-burdened if SNAP benefits fall through, as well.
Donate Meals and Other Items.
Local businesses have been taking it upon themselves to treat unpaid employees who still must work, like many Transportation Safety Administration workers at the airport, who received a free pizza lunch from Jules Thin Crust Pizza this week; and Indian restaurant Tiffin offered free lunch all week to unpaid workers. The airport has also launched a call for donations, for all federal workers. It is accepting non-perishable food for humans and pets, diapers and other baby needs, grocery store gift cards and feminine hygiene products. You can drop off these on weekdays from 9 am to 9 pm at the Interactive Employee Training Center between Terminals C and D on Departures Road.
The Maternity Care Coalition offers in-home services to needy mothers around the city all year round, and is starting to face an influx of additional need—and fear—during the shutdown. Buying baby supplies—diapers, wipes, formula—is one of those hidden costs of being financially-strapped, and they are not often readily available at food banks and other similar places. You can drop off gently-worn baby clothes, toys, car seats, unused diapers and formula to one of MCC’s 11 locations. Or, donate to the organization here.
Help may be as simple as a family dinner, or a ride, or a couple of hours of childcare so people can make it to appointments without paying for a sitter or take on temporary gigs.
The National Diaper Bank Network also help mothers get diapers through a couple of different local organizations in Philly, including The Greater Philadelphia Diaper Bank, and Conshohocken’s Cradles to Crayons. You can donate to the national network, or to the local groups, here.
Talk to Your Neighbors.
This does not need to be a conversation about politics, don’t worry. It’s about making sure people have what they need to get through the next few weeks. Use neighborhood Facebook groups, your local library branch, your kids’ school, your church to find out who in your community might be struggling to make ends meet. Help may be as simple as a family dinner, or a ride, or a couple of hours of childcare so people can make it to appointments without paying for a sitter or take on temporary gigs while waiting to go back to the office.
Help Local Coast Guard Members.
Coast Guard personnel are not being paid during the furlough, but most are still working at their Delaware River station. You can drop off needed items there, at 1 Washington Avenue, or at Community College of Philadelphia, Room BG43. See a list of requested items, including Wawa gas cards, and children’s snack foods, here.
Keep Philly Clean.
Be like these amazing kids from the local chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, who in early January organized a cleanup of the area around Independence National Park. Most of the city is kept clean (such as it is) by the Streets Department, but there’s a mess building up in parks in and outside the city, and every bit helps. (The National Parks Foundation has also set up a fundraiser to help with repairs and cleanup when the shutdown has ended. You can donate here.)
Call Your Reps.
Regardless of where you fall in the political spectrum, Congress needs to hear from you. One suggestion? Perhaps they can donate their continuing salaries to support the workers who keep us safe and healthy, while they dawdle to do the same. Here’s how to start.Photo via Flickr