Loudoun entered 2019 in the midst of the longest federal government shutdown in history, as local businesses, governments and nonprofits rallied to help federal employees and contractors.
Congress and the president had deadlocked in late 2018 over the president’s demand for $5.7 billion in federal funding for a border wall. With no budget adopted by midnight Dec. 22, the federal government shut down all non-essential services, and would not reopen for more than a month. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the shutdown cost the American economy at least $11 billion.
That loss was felt keenly in Loudoun, where many people work for the federal government or federal contractors. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 federal employees live in Loudoun. A group of 22 local business groups, including the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, signed onto a letter urging Congress and the president to reopen the government.
On January 11, the date of the first missed paycheck of the shutdown for federal employees, Easterns Automotive Group Director of Marketing Joel Bassam announced that his company had committed to donate $10,000 a week to the food banks each week the shutdown continues. It was only one of many businesses that stepped up—for example, attorneys at the law firm of Dunlap, Bennett & Ludwig, which has an office in Leesburg, offered free consultations to federal employees and contractors who were worried a drop in their credit ratings after missed paychecks—and missed bills—would affect their security clearances. Many other businesses offered their clients flexible payment plans, and restaurants offered free meals to people affected by the shutdown.
Local governments helped, as well—waiving bus fares for federal employees, sending money to food pantries, and deferring utility bills.
And as always, the first line of defense for people in need, the county’s nonprofits, geared up to help. Food pantries in particular swung into action to make sure nobody went hungry, and the county’s largest hunger nonprofit, Loudoun Hunger Relief, offered a pop-up market in Purcellville.
The shutdown ended with a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and Trump relenting on his border wall budget demand on Jan. 25.