As the government shutdown stretches into its fourth week, affecting some 800,000 federal workers and with no resolution in sight, Mainers are not untouched.
According to the most recent data, there are 15,344 federal employees in Maine, including postal workers. There are 758 active-duty military, with the majority (551) in the Coast Guard, the only agency not funded during the government shutdown.
Households affected are mostly on the lower end of the middle-class spectrum, with average take-home pay of about $500 each week per employee, according to The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
While politician debates rage on in Washington, D.C., and the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history continues, several local companies have stepped up to help federal employees.
Heidi Neal, owner of Loyal Biscuit Co. said her company doesn’t want people to worry about the inability to pay for dog and cat food or to change their diet due to lack of a paycheck.
“We know we have a lot of Coast Guard customers who are not getting paid and with all of our five locations around the state, we also work a lot with the Small Business Association, which is also affected by the shut down,” she said. “So, we want to be able to reach out and help them any way they can.”
The Coast Guard has a number of procedural requirements in order to receive donations (see attached document), so Neal was careful to work within their parameters.
“We didn’t want to get anyone in trouble, so we had to be pretty creative,” she said. “Our current customers will be able to get their dog or cat food on credit with zero interest, and once their back pay is reinstated, we’ll settle up, so at least their animals will have healthy food. For one-time customers, we’re also offering certain bags of dog and cat food at cost. that way we’re still following the rules but able to help any way we can.”
Ada’s Kitchen in Rockland published a Facebook post on Jan. 16 stating: “Federal employees — we’re talking to you. If you have been affected by the government shut down we’re here to help you out. We can’t give you a paycheck, but we can make pizza. Come in with your family and show us your federal ID and will make you a pizza on us.”
Jenn Rockwell, co-owner of Ada’s said, “In the Midcoast, we depend on our federal work force everyday, and at Ada’s we appreciate and respect that contribution. As an extension of the community they serve, we feel the responsibility to support them during this moment of compromise. We can't get them their deserved and earned paychecks, but can help by feeding them. For the many federal employees affected the government shutdown, Ada’s is here for you. The pizzas are on us for you and your families. Show us your federal ID and we'll take care of the rest.”
As far as donations, a number of organizations are making sure families don’t go without.
The Maine Lobster Festival announced Jan.16 that they were donating Walmart gift cards for Maine Coast Guard families totaling $2,500. Celia Crie Knight, President of MLF said, “The Coast Guard does a ton of volunteering for the Festival, so our committee decided very early in the shut down that we needed to give from a special fund.” Crie Knight also added that her family’s company, Knight Marine Service, also donated a $250 Walmart gift cards as well.
Food pantries such as AIO Food Pantry in Rockland and H.O.M.E. in Orland, Maine, have made it known through public Facebook posts that they are open for families furloughed or affected by the shutdown, as well. There is also a Free Farmer’s Market on Feb. 5 in Rockland starting at 11 a.m. for any families who need it. No I.D. necessary.
Airbnb announced on Jan. 16 that they will also be offering a “Night on Us” initiative nationally, “giving all executive branch employees who use their home to host an Airbnb user for at least three nights anytime between Dec. 18 and March 18 an extra night of income.”
As for services, Maine Water pledged to work with its customers who are furloughed federal employees to maintain their water service until their paychecks start flowing again, according to a Jan. 15 company news release. See that story.
Hampton Inn and Suites, in Thomaston, has been the unofficial hub for Coast Guard donations. It has really taken the shutdown to heart with a banner of a Coast Guard vessel on their Facebook page that reads: “We stand up, when they shut down.”
Organizer Shelby Riley, an employee of Hampton Inn, sits on the Rockland board of the Coast Guard.
“The Coast Guard has done a lot for our community; they protect our waters,” she said. “They need help and we are trying to step up in any way we can. “We’re getting gift cards from Hannaford Supermarkets, Maritime Energy, Walmart, donations from individuals, food donations, and pet supply donations,” she said. “I’m very excited about how the community has stepped up; I think it’s fantastic.To expect these men and women to go to work and not get paid for protecting our waters and our communities, the children in our communities, it’s not right. I’m ecstatic to see how everyone in the community is helping them out at this time.”
“You can drop off donations here at the Hampton Inn and also at the Rockland Harbor Hotel, which is one of our sister properties,” said Riley. People can contact either Cynthia Powell at email@example.com or Shelby Riley at Shelby.Riley@hilton.com. Updates can be found on Rockland's Coast Guard City Facebook page and the Rockland Coast Guard Committee page.
This story will be updated.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org