Local organizations offer relief for unpaid federal workers

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 29, 2019

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ROYAL OAK — On Jan. 25, the record 35-day federal shutdown ended with President Donald Trump signing legislation to reopen the government for three weeks.

Many organizations, businesses and groups around the country stepped up to ease the financial burden of federal workers who, as a result of the partial government shutdown, have gone without paychecks.

Locally, Beaumont Health, The Heat and Warmth Fund and the Oakland County Board of Commissioners joined other organizations and businesses supporting the more than 5,000 federal workers in Michigan.

Federal employees will receive back pay now that the shutdown has temporarily ended, but organizations are sensitive to the immediate and out-of-pocket costs facing many impacted families.

After February, the federal government cannot guarantee funding for the Women, Infant and Children program or other food aid programs due to the shutdown, according to an Oakland County Board of Commissioners press release.

More than 16,000 people in Oakland County rely on WIC, and more than 77,000 people rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

On Jan. 22, Beaumont Health announced that it would waive emergency and urgent care copays and deductibles for federal workers who had been furloughed or who were working without pay, as well as their insured family members, until the government reopened.

Beaumont Health will also retroactively extend the removal of fees to midnight on Saturday, Dec. 22.

“Our mission to provide compassionate, extraordinary care every day leads us to try to take steps to help out patients and families during times of need and unique circumstances over which they have no control,” Beaumont Health CEO John Fox said in a statement. “We hope this will provide some peace of mind to those who are facing hard choices until government jobs reopen and pay is restored.”

The offer is available to unpaid federal workers at all eight Beaumont hospitals and at Beaumont urgent care centers.

To ensure that fees are waived, government workers and their insured family members will be flagged during the registration process at Beaumont Health facilities, according to a hospital press release.

Federal employees who received emergency or urgent care dating back to midnight on Saturday, Dec. 22, can call (248) 577-9443 to adjust their bills.

On Jan. 23, THAW launched a CrowdRise campaign called Funds for Feds on Furlough to keep workers safe and warm during the impending cold spell by helping with utility bills, such as gas, electricity and water.

“Federal employees have dedicated their lives to jobs that improve our lives and our country in ways we often take for granted,” THAW CEO Saunteel Jenkins said in a statement. “Many of these everyday heroes are still showing up for work every day despite facing payless paydays. We want to help ensure that their utilities are not shut off as they make difficult budgeting decisions about where any savings they may have will be deployed.”

THAW created Funds for Feds on Furlough because most federal workers won’t qualify for traditional assistance programs with strict income guidelines, according to a THAW press release.

“We don’t know how long this shutdown will last, but we know federal workers are our friends, family and neighbors,” Jenkins said. “THAW has been serving the community for more than 30 years. This is just a natural extension for our neighbors helping neighbors in need.”

To donate to the campaign, visit www.crowdrise.com/fundsfor feds.

To qualify for assistance from the CrowdRise campaign, federal employees will need identification, proof they are a federal worker on furlough and a past-due utility bill.

For more information, call (800) 866-4249 or visit www.thawfund.org.

On Jan. 24, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution, introduced by board Chairman Dave Woodward, D-Royal Oak, to assign $1 million in funding to aid with food insecurity and hunger due to the shutdown.

Woodward also established a bipartisan three-person Federal Food Emergency Special Committee to create a plan ensuring that Oakland County is ready and able to assist those hardest hit by the shutdown.

The committee consists of Woodward and commissioners Janet Jackson, D-Southfield, and Shelley Goodman Taub, R-Bloomfield Township. They will work with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Oakland County Health Division and local social service agencies.

“This is a crisis created by the federal government,” Woodward said in a statement Jan. 24. “We hope for the best, but will plan for the worst. Nevertheless, the wealthiest county in Michigan is not going to sit back and do nothing while our most vulnerable families and children are harmed.”

According to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners press release, as of Dec. 22, 2018, the Emergency Food and Shelter Program could no longer release funds; the Commodities Supplemental Food Program, which provides boxes to 45,000 seniors in southeastern Michigan, ran out of funding Jan. 18; and most of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s programs were also impacted.

For more information, call the Oakland County Board of Commissioners at (248) 858-0100.

Master Chief Alan Haraf, with U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs District 9, said that although members missed their first paycheck as a result of the shutdown Jan. 15, morale was still high and the active duty men and women of the Coast Guard were still focused on their mission of protecting life and property, including search and rescue, port security, law enforcement and environmental response.

Haraf said that there was an outpouring of support across the country for the Coast Guard.

“It’s most appreciated, to say the least,” he said. “Our folks are very humble, and I think it shows the bilateral relationship and the mutual support that exists in those communities.”

The Coast Guard was fully funded through Dec. 31, Haraf said. Coast Guard members will get their back pay.

He said that the families of Coast Guard members are also very appreciative of the support from communities across the region.

“People understand what’s happening and want to do everything they can to support and help out,” Haraf said.

Staff Writer Kristyne Demske contributed to this report.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.