Government, utility, and business leaders gathered in the Loudoun County government center Friday morning to talk about what they are doing to help people impacted by the ongoing federal government shutdown.
Today marks the first missed paycheck of the shutdown for federal employees.
Already a local business is stepping up. Easterns Automotive Group Director of Marketing Joel Bassam said his company is committing to donate $10,000 a week to the food banks each week the shutdown continues.
“My father was here yesterday, and they mentioned this, and he immediately called me and said ‘let’s donate $10,000 a week as long as it’s going on,’” Bassam said. “There’s really not a lot of thought to it. As a company, we think that giving back’s kind of a part of our DNA.”
Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) called the press conference. She had suggested two things the Board of Supervisors approved earlier in the week: sending up to $25,000 to local food pantries as needed, and waiving bus fares for unpaid federal employees who have to go to work.
She also gathered Loudoun County School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) and representatives from Loudoun Water, Dominion Energy, Loudoun Hunger Relief and Dulles South Food Pantry to talk about what they can do for people affected by the shutdown.
Morse said the school system “takes very seriously the responsibility to ensure that our students are prepared for school each day, and that includes insuring they have sufficient food.”
“While the furlough may impact the food supplies in our neighbors’ homes, families can rest assured that the children will be fed a hot meal at school whether or not they have sufficient funds in their account,” Morse said.
Loudoun Water Director of Communications Susan Crosby said “we always accommodate our customers who may be having a financial hardship.” She said the company can waive late fees, accept promises to pay, or develop installment plans for payment.
Chuck Penn, Dominion Energy Media Relations Manager, said “we have every intention of being there for our customers in their time of need.”
“We are keenly aware of the plight of our customers that are caught up in this government shutdown, and we’re going to make sure that we have all of the resources that we have in play to help them,” Penn said. Similarly, he said Dominion offers customers its existing payment plans and other accommodations for people having trouble paying a bill.
Randall pointed out that funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—SNAP, formerly known as food stamps—is expected to last through the end of the month. If the federal government does not reopen, after this month, about 4,134 households in Loudoun and about 8,396 Loudouners won’t receive SNAP benefits.
“In other words, this will only get worse and worse and worse as time goes on,” Randall said.
She also said people should not be ashamed to ask for help in a hard time.
“Please don’t feel that way,” Randall said. “We stand ready to help because you need help. We do what we can when we can with what we have. If you need the services, please reach out. You will be treated with respect, you will be treated with dignity, and we know that’s what they’re here for. Everyone needs someone in times of need. I know that I have.”
Stephanie Berkowitz, president and CEO of Northern Virginia Family Services, agreed.
“There’s no reason to feel ashamed,” Berkowitz said. “This is out of their control and no one should ever feel ashamed. The resources are here to help, and we really hope that people do come.”
Berkowitz said her organization has already seen a 10 percent increase in traffic at some food banks—even before Friday’s missed paycheck. She said that includes not only federal workers and contractors, but waiters, Uber and Lyft drivers, and other people who have seen their income go down because federal workers are staying home. Some of those people, she said, last visited the food banks a decade ago during the recession.
“These folks that knew about us 10 years ago and are now coming back for the first time, and are bringing groups of their friends with them who are also struggling and in need and have no idea how to access resources, because they’ve never been in a situation where they needed to,” Berkowitz said.
Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said he has neighbors out of work due to the shutdown—and one neighbor who has to go to work without pay.
“Both of those neighbors have three little children, and mortgages, and car payments, and insurance, and [need to put] food on the table,” Buona said. “It’s tough without that paycheck, and they’re going to suffer.”
He went on to condemn the lack of action by Congress and President Donald J. Trump. He said the parties “need to quit running to their corners, and they need to run to the middle to find solutions. And he called on Loudoun’s businesses and citizens to also step up and help out, especially with food banks.
“The longer it goes on, the more we up here are going to have to get more creative to try to help our citizens,” Buona said. “Hopefully this will come to an end soon. I personally implore our elected leaders in Washington to bring this to an end, because this really has a human toll.”
Buona is senior vice president at Telos Corporation, a major federal contractor, and said his company has people that work directly in federal agencies that are currently shuttered. With those agencies shut down, companies cannot bill them, and their employees are out of work—leaving the private companies to decide whether to pick up the government’s slack.
“If the company has the resources to continue to pay the employee, they’re doing that out of their bottom line, but not all companies have the resources to continue to pay the employee plus their benefits,” Buona said. “And I personally know of cases of companies that have already terminated—not furloughed, but terminated—employees as a result of this shutdown. My own company has not.”
He said while federal employees are likely to get back-pay, federal contractors are almost certain not to. And he said the shutdown extends beyond federal employees and contractors.
“Think of all the restaurants that are near government agencies, the stores, the retail establishments, hotels—the ripple effect is quite large,” Buona said. “It’s not limited to just those employees, and if I have a restaurant next to a government agency, I’ve probably lost 90 percent of my business right now.”