AP NEWS

Organizations, businesses offer help to federal employees

January 19, 2019

HUNTINGTON - With federal workers missing paychecks because of the partial government shutdown, several organizations and businesses in Huntington stand ready to ease hardships for federal employees who have been furloughed - though so far, they haven’t noticed much need.

West Virginia is home to approximately 18,000 federal employees, of which around 8,000 are currently furloughed.

Marshall University’s Department of Dietetics is opening the doors to its food pantry Saturday, Jan. 19, to federal government employees who need food assistance.

Kelli Williams, chairwoman of the university’s dietetics program, said the university will continue to do what it can with regard to emergency food relief.

“We are deeply committed to providing nutrition education and programming to not only our students, but to those we serve in our community as well,” Williams said. “We understand our federal employees may need a little extra help at this time, and we will keep our food pantry open to them as long as they need it.”

The university food pantry, at 1802 6th Ave. in the Tri-State MRI Building, is open from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Fridays and 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. every third Saturday of the month.

Cyndi Kirkhart, executive director of Facing Hunger Foodbank in Huntington, said the organization has noticed a 25 percent overall increase in calls for information since the shutdown began.

“We want to assist them with anything they need,” Kirkhart said. “We have a wonderful network of safety-net services that we partner with all the time, and we’re all in this together. This is a situation not of their making. There was no opportunity to plan for this, and many thought the shutdown would not last this long.”

At Facing Hunger Foodbank, which serves 116,000 individuals in 17 counties in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, the shutdown is affecting U.S. Department of Agriculture funding that pays administrative costs for the nonprofit. The last check was received at the end of December, and in January they will only receive half of the normal appropriations.

“With the uptick in need, the food bank also needs more food and monetary donations, as well as additional volunteers,” Kirkhart said.

Anyone who wants to help, or those in need, can call them at 304-523-6029.

Federal employees affected by the government shutdown in West Virginia also can apply for unemployment benefits through WorkForce West Virginia. As of Thursday, there were 463 unemployment claims filed statewide by furloughed federal employees, according to a spokesperson for WorkForce West Virginia in Charleston.

If Congress reaches an agreement that includes back pay for furloughed time, federal workers who received unemployment benefits will be responsible for paying back what they received during that time, the spokesperson said.

Affected workers can apply by visiting workforcewv.org. Applicants may also visit their local WorkForce office for additional support and application assistance. WorkForce Outreach Office employees cannot process unemployment claims.

For more information on unemployment benefits for federal furloughed employees in West Virginia, visit workforcewv.org/unemployment or call 304-558-2611.

Whether or not furloughed employees apply for assistance, the Huntington Salvation Army says it is also ready to help.

“Those directly impacted will struggle to make ends meet for as long as the shutdown lasts, and an increased number of these families will rely on Salvation Army services, some of which are funded in part by government grants. Even though dispersal of these funds are delayed, we’re hopeful it will be made right when the government is reopened. Regardless, we’ll continue helping those in need,” said Lt. Liz Blusiewicz, corps officer with the Salvation Army in Huntington.

Blusiewicz said federal workers should feel no shame in seeking help.

“If you are a federal worker in need, we are here to help,” she said. “We want to help to make sure families are not going without.”

Anyone who needs help can call 304-529-2401. Proof of government employment will be required to receive assistance, Blusiewicz added.

Several other businesses were offering services to employees in limbo, as well. In Huntington, the 8th Street Barber Shop is offering free haircuts to federal furloughed employees.

“These people are not getting paid, and we want to help in any way we can,” said the barbershop’s owner, Jordan Walker.

Jim Vaught, one of the barbers at the shop, says he was in the National Guard and can’t imagine the challenges furloughed federal workers are facing.

“This hits home for me,” Vaught said. “They aren’t getting a paycheck, so this is just a small way that we can do our part here to help those in need.”

City National Bank is offering financial options for furloughed federal employees that include loan payment deferral and a special furlough relief loan.

“Contact your local branch to discuss your individual circumstances and find out what options may be available to help you during this unexpected financial challenge,” the bank said in a news release.

Scout’s Honor Pet Food Pantry located at Dogwood Boarding in Culloden is trying to help West Virginians struggling to feed their pets as a result of the ongoing government shutdown.

“We are currently opening up our pet food pantry parameters to include anyone with a current federal ID who is not receiving pay due to being furloughed,” the organization said on its Facebook page.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.