Businesses across U.S. step up to assist federal workers during shutdown

With the White House and congressional Democrats locked in battle over the government shutdown, the private sector has jumped in to help federal workers caught in the crossfire.

Big business, mom-and-pop shops and community nonprofits have teamed up to offer aid to the roughly 800,000 government employees and contractors missing paychecks during the partial shutdown that has lasted more than a month.

From Taco Petes in Los Angeles to Barrio Cafe in Phoenix to Farm Burger in Atlanta, restaurants across the U.S. are serving free meals for furloughed federal workers.

KISS rock legends Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons announced that Transportation Security Administration employees working without pay can eat for free at their Rock & Brews restaurant chain.

“We are proud to operate restaurants at airports and respect the diligent, hard work of each and every TSA employee to ensure the safety of travelers,” Mr. Simmons and Mr. Stanley said in a statement. “They touch our lives daily, and as long as they are working without pay, the least we can do is provide them with a delicious meal to show our support.”

Navy Federal Credit Union offered members zero-interest loans to replace some of their missed direct-deposit paychecks up to $6,000.

The credit union has a large membership in the Washington, D.C., area and an estimated 100,000 members hit by the shutdown, including workers in the Coast Guard and departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Interior, State and Transportation.

Since missing the first paychecks beginning Jan. 11, about 16,000 members have taken out the no-payday loans, said Navy Federal Credit Union spokesman Mike Rudin.

“We just want them to feel secure and offer peace of mind during this difficult time,” he said.

The credit union first made the offer for a single pay period. But with the current impasse breaking the 21-day shutdown record from 1995-1996, the credit union extended the offer for a second pay period.

Credit union officials are monitoring the negotiations and considering what to do next, said Mr. Rudin.

The U.S. Employees Credit Union and the Congressional Federal Credit Union also are providing interest-free loans to account holders missing paychecks.

Banks offering hardship programs for credit card, loan and mortgage customers stuck without federal paychecks include Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial.

Kraft has opened a pop-up grocery store in downtown Washington, giving federal workers with a valid government ID a free bag of Kraft products such as macaroni and cheese, sliced cheese, salad dressing, mayonnaise and barbecue sauce.

The company called it the “Kraft Now Pay Later” program, asking recipients to pay it back with a donation to charity after the government fully reopens.

“During the government shutdown, parents should not have to worry about putting dinner on the table because they aren’t receiving a paycheck,” said Sergio Eleuterio, head of marketing for Kraft. “This store is one way we can help those affected get the grocery staples they need. And we celebrate all who are doing their part to help.”

Amalgamated Transit Union offered federal workers free meals last week at its headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“We have had some great crowds and are glad we can provide them some comfort and food during this difficult time,” said ATU International President Larry Hanley.

In Baltimore, Safeway grocery stores teamed up with the Humane Society’s Bmore Kind Pet Food Bank to make sure affected employees don’t worry about feeding their pets. Safeway donated $10,000 worth of its own brand dog and cat food, according to the Humane Society.

“Baltimore Humane Society feels it’s the responsibility of all citizens to work together regardless of political affiliation,” the Humane Society said in a statement.

A similar effort is underway with the Montgomery County (Maryland) Animal Services and Adoption Center, according to Safeway parent company Albertsons.