County supervisors will send up to $25,000 to Loudoun’s food pantries and waive bus fees for furloughed federal workers as the federal government shutdown stretches into its third week.
They’re giving $7,500 to Dulles South Food Pantry, and $15,000 to Loudoun Hunger Relief, which also distributes to other food pantries. County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said the county government would be in direct communication with the food pantries, disbursing the money as needed.
Additionally, transit and commuter bus fees will be waived for federal government employees headed to work without pay starting Monday. Both ideas were suggested by Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).
It is not likely the county’s bus drivers will be tasked with checking federal employee IDs or keeping track of which federal agencies are closed. Instead, bus riders will likely be on the honor system.
“It would be my intention that whoever needs to take the bus to get to work because they’re essential employees can get to work, and if one or two people slip in there who are not shut down, I can’t police that,” Randall said. “It’s more important to me that people who want to get to work who are not getting paid, get to work.”
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), who is a federal employee himself with United States Capitol Police but not furloughed, supported the idea but was skeptical, pointing out federal employees get back pay for missed paychecks when the government reopens.
“Basically a government shutdown for federal employees is a free vacation if they want it,” Buffington said. “This is silly.”
The next day, he said the point he was trying to make is that federal shutdowns costs taxpayers money rather than save it.
“Taxes continue to be collected and spent when the government reopens and employees are given back pay,” Buffington said. “In fact all it really accomplishes is hurting the American people by way of a government that is not providing services that the American people have paid for. The point I was getting at is that I wish the American people understood that.”
Randall said back pay may not help people living paycheck-to-paycheck.
“I have lived paycheck-to-paycheck and sometimes the ends don’t meet,” Randall said. “Sometimes on those last two days you’re eating S.O.S. on toast because that’s all you got left. Sometimes you’re eating beans for days. The ends don’t always meet. And yes, we’re a high median income [county], but that doesn’t mean everyone has it.”
If the government stays closed through the end of the week, federal employees will miss a paycheck for the first time in this shutdown Friday.
Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian) also asked county staff members to look ahead to how the county might help people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—SNAP, formerly known as food stamps—and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children or WIC if the shutdown stretches on and that money runs out.
“Those are low-income families and we need to be prepared for that,” Volpe said. “…I would rather us be proactive in case this goes on an extended period of time.”
According to Loudoun County staff members, funding for SNAP is expected to last through the end of the month. About 4,134 households in Loudoun and about 8,396 Loudouners receive SNAP benefits.
WIC, a state program that receives federal funding, has funding to last for several months.
Randall also plans to pitch several other relief measures, including suggesting leniency on paying bills from Loudoun Water, and allowing students in the public school system to carry a larger balance on their meal plans. She and Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) are expected to discuss those ideas at greater length at a press conference at 9 a.m. Friday.
Supervisors approved the funding for food pantries and bus fee waivers 7-0-2, with Supervisors Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) absent.
Supervisors all agreed on one other topic:
“I think that we all are hopefully in agreement that government shutdowns are absolutely idiotic,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run).