No matter where you live, families are being affected by the government shutdown. Here are some ways you can help support your community now and in the next few months.
It's not just the DC area! Federal workers and offices are shuttered across the country.
Before you say, “but they'll receive back pay,” that only applies to furloughed federal workers. The ripple effect of a government shutdown reaches far and wide. Community resources are strained during any length shutdown, and we have now reached unprecedented territory because of the number of days going by.
Government contractors–people who work for private companies that service the government–are also out of work or business is stalled. They have no recourse for backpay. Small business owners see less foot traffic, cancelled services and lower consumer spending.
Ways You Can Help No Matter Where You Live
Give to Local Food Banks
January is typically a low-inventory period for food banks because of the surge between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This January is especially tough because clientele is rising with the government shutdown, like this story out of San Antonio.
Families who did not previously need assistance are requesting it. And families who typically donate are holding back because of their own financial situations.
If you are able, please give to your community food banks. Most prefer cash because they can purchase food at a greater discount in bulk than you can at your local grocery store.
To find a food bank in your area, you can search by zip code at Feeding America.
Be Grateful and Kind Out in Public
I'm headed to the airport next weekend (optimistically, considering that we expect a second snowstorm). I'm very aware that the TSA agents are working without pay in what is already a thankless job.
Take the time to smile, thank people, and be extra courteous. You don't know who you come across during a typical day that is crunching numbers in their head, trying to figure out if they can cover rent or food. Someone you see today may be worried about feeding their kids. Any kindness you put forth will help.
Posting online comments, sharing snarky memes, voicing your strongest partisan opinions, etc. might not be the most productive thing to do right now for friends and family members who are most directly feeling the effects of the shutdown.
And please, if you can stop friends and family from actively being jerks, please do so.
Support Small Businesses
Here where I live in Northern Virginia, we have seen so many small business owners step up and offer free meals and services to furloughed workers and contractors. And apparently that's happening in other parts of the country as well, like Denver and Tampa Bay.
Small businesses surrounding federal buildings and tourist attractions are hit particularly hard. Without people there to spend on car services, restaurants, shopping, etc. they're already seeing a drop in consumer spending. At my friend's hair salon, she is seeing cancellations from those holding on tighter to their budgets.
This is on top of the direct impact of the shutdown on small businesses, who cannot work directly with the SBA for loans and support. With the ripple effect from this shutdown, independently-owned businesses will suffer for many months to come.
What can you do? If you're able, shop small and shop local. Spend your dollars at the neighborhood store instead of the big-box chain. Hire a local handyman, plumber or electrician and share referral business.
Check on Your Neighbors
Across the Midwest and here on the East Coast, we've been slammed by a major snowstorm. That makes getting out to hourly jobs more difficult. That means school closures where kids receive breakfast and lunch. And it means heading out to the many companies offering free meals too treacherous.
In my neighborhood, we help each other shovel snow–especially for the elderly, single parents and those with infants. Reach out with an email, text or in person to see who needs help. It might be just a friendly word they need to hear, or it might be that you can bring back a gallon of milk next time you're out at the store.
In our community Facebook group, people asking for help with closet organizing, home improvement projects, etc. are specifically requesting those they know are hurting from the shutdown. This is so thoughtful! There are so many creative ways to support your community during the shutdown.
Get More Informed
One of the hard parts we're experiencing right now as a furloughed family is people not understanding the situation we (and others) are in. Since this is only a “partial” shutdown, day-to-day community operations look the same to many.
People are happy to hear that they can now receive tax refunds because the IRS was reinstated. I was excited, too, until I realized that we can't do our taxes without my husband's W-9, which comes from his furloughed agency.
As the shutdown continues, the long-term impact on everything from college students' financial aid for next year to senior housing to children's health and wellness. And what about the mental health of everyone involved? That is already an issue in my household.
Wondering what you can do today to take action? Choose one of these and do it now. Make that charitable donation, reach out via text or phone, and put some good out into the world. I hope you'll take action and support your community during the shutdown.