Federal workers seek help; community offers aid to those not being paid

PORT ANGELES — A significant number of federal employees across the state are applying for unemployment as they prepare to miss paychecks due to the partial government shutdown.

Among the 1,600 furloughed federal employees statewide who have applied for unemployment is Pat Crain, a biologist at Olympic National Park who hasn’t been to work since the partial government shutdown began 21 days ago due to a dispute between President Donald Trump and Congress on funding for a wall — or barrier — on the nation’s southern border.

Crain said that though he hasn’t missed a paycheck yet — he is supposed to be paid Tuesday — he is already facing financial uncertainty.

“Nothing has changed in terms of monthly mortgage payments,” Crain said. “We still have to make payments even when we may not see a paycheck.”

Applying for unemployment hasn’t been easy, Crain said. There have been issues with his application due to his employment status with the Department of Interior and he was expected to provide a date he may return to work.

“So far, I’m still deemed ineligible,” he said.

Janelle Guthrie, a spokesperson for the state Employment Security Department, said that typically when a federal employee files for unemployment the state requests employment information from the federal government.

“The one difficulty is that these agencies are closed,” she said. “What we’ve been doing to make the process more smooth is we’re accepting W-2 forms and pay stubs.”

She said each case is different and that “we’re focusing on getting these claims processed as quickly as possible.”

Crain said that while missing one paycheck is difficult, the uncertainty of how long the shutdown may last has him concerned.

“Some of us can miss one paycheck, but when you miss more than one, things start to get harder,” he said. “I’m lucky in that we’re a two-income family and relatively stable. I really worry about the people that I work with more than I’m worried about myself.”

Crain is hardly alone. Other federal employees at Olympic National Park and at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Port Angeles expressed concerns for how they will pay their bills.

One federal employee, who was not authorized to talk to the Peninsula Daily News and asked not to be identified, said it is amazing that a dispute happening on the East Coast can have such a big impact on the lives of employees across the nation.

“We’re pawns in a political game,” the employee said. “It affects a lot of people.”

The employee said he was concerned about the economic impact the shutdown could have on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Not only is access to Hurricane Ridge closed due to the shutdown, but hundreds of government workers could miss paychecks that would have contributed to the local economy.

About 530 federal employees are on the North Olympic Peninsula, many of whom are working without pay or are furloughed. About 800,000 federal workers are not being paid nationwide.

While employees at Naval Magazine Indian Island in Jefferson County are being paid, active duty and civilian employees at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles are either on furlough or working without pay.

“We want the American People and especially our coastal neighbors to know we’re standing watch,” said Chief Petty Officer David Mosley, a Coast Guard spokesperson. “Whether we get a paycheck on [Tuesday] or not, we are out doing the job.”

In District 13, which covers the Pacific Northwest, 65 percent of the 130 civilian employees are on furlough. Everyone else is working without pay, Mosley said.

Mosley was unable to say how many Coast Guard employees in Port Angeles have been affected.

Washington state has 2,600 active, reservist and civilian Coast Guard workers who are affected by the shutdown, according to U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer’s office.

Community to help workers

As the shutdown enters into its 21st day — tying for the longest shutdown — local businesses and groups are doing what they can to help federal workers through their financial issues.

Patricia’s Pet Shop in Port Angeles is offering to help Coast Guard families who are unable to pay for pet food.

Donnie Honeycutt, manager, said Coast Guard employees have gone to the store but have been unable to pay for their pet food.

“It’s sad and it’s definitely affecting them,” she said. “If anyone needs pet food or rodent food, we’ll make sure they’ll leave here with it. When they get paid they can pay us back.”

Phoenix Dragon Martial Arts, also in Port Angeles, is not charging students whose families have been affected by the shutdown.

“I’ve had some students that said they wouldn’t be able to come this month if they had to pay because they’re just so strapped,” said Meghan Ventura, who owns the business with her husband David. “We’ve got some that can’t pay deductibles for medical bills.”

She described their students as family and said it’s the one way they could think of to help out.

In an effort not associated with Olympic Medical Center, medical staff at the hospital have been putting together funds to get gift cards so Coast Guard families can afford food.

Emily Dexter, director of the Port Angeles Food Bank, said it will host an extra distribution for federal workers from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday. She said clients would need to bring documentation that shows they are a federal worker.

Banks, such as Chase and Wells Fargo, have said on their websites they will help customers who are federal employees. Chase said it would waive or refund some fees and Wells Fargo said some customers may qualify for forbearance or other payment assistance programs.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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