This Friday will be the second missed paycheck for federal workers furloughed due to the government shutdown, and Juneau residents are stepping up to help those affected locally.
Some furloughed workers formed a support group for those without pay. And the Southeast Alaska Food Bank opened Monday for a special service offering 50 pounds of food to any federal worker who showed identification.
“Money-wise, I’m almost broke,” said Eric Adam, a furloughed U.S. Forest Service administrative support specialist who helped form the support group. “This was a wake-up call for a lot of us.”
The Juneau Economic Development Council estimated that $2.3 million in civilian employee wages are not paid out each pay period that passes during the shutdown. That does not include U.S. Coast Guard active duty wages, even though they are also working without pay. JEDC estimates there to be about 850 federal workers in Juneau; about 300 civilians are working and only 140 of them are getting paid. All active duty Coast Guard — which JEDC estimates at about 175 to 200 people — are also working without pay.
As a GS-6 level employee, Eric Adam is on the low end of the pay grade for federal employees and doesn’t have a lot of savings.
“People are hurting so badly,” Eric Adam said. “Some people said we’re having a paid vacation, but it ain’t no vacation to me. Some of us don’t have money to go do stuff.”
Adam said this Friday will be the second missed child support payment for his two children in Santa Barbara, California.
“We all got furloughed and then were stuck in our homes,” he said. “I realized we needed to team up because we’re stronger as one.”
That’s when he and a few other furloughed workers decided to form a support group. It’s a public group on Facebook called “Juneau Feds Stand Together – Support Each Other” and anyone can join. The goal is to post resources and information, or simply to offer moral support. Eric Adam posted in the group Monday offering to bring boxes of food to workers who weren’t able to get out to the food bank because of snow.
Darren Adams, the manager of the food bank, said the food bank will be open every Monday through the shutdown offering federal workers food from noon-4 p.m. They will probably do it for one week after the shutdown ends, too, while workers get back on their feet. They serviced 36 families in just the first hour and approximately 100 total families in the four hours they were open on Monday. Darren Adams said they estimate that they gave out around 3,600 pounds of food that will help about 350 people.
“Over the years they’ve paid it forward so much in terms of getting food to us,” Darren Adams said. “When the shutdown happened and it wasn’t over in a day or two, the least we could do is try to help folks.”
Federal workers in Juneau and across the country organize Feds Feed Families annually, to help distribute food to families over the summer who need help.
“It’s ironic,” said Eric Adam. “We did Feds Feed Families but now it’s families feed feds.”
Two TSA agents were picking up boxes of food on Monday. Both said they were not allowed to speak as federal workers on the record.
“[The food] does make a difference,” one said. “It’s hard because I’ve never had to do it before.”
She said the donated food helps to offset costs, so money can go toward other things like rent.
About 15 Coast Guard members were helping distribute food on their day off. They were mostly active duty, so they’re still working without pay. Several of them were a part of different organizations: the Chief Petty Officers Association, the Chief Worn Officer Association and Junior Officer Association.
“This is our real first stand-up, the biggest effort that we’ve had [since the shutdown],” said Quy Nguyen, president of the Chief Petty Officer Association Juneau Chapter. “Helping our own right now is our focus.”
CPOA Member Matthew Schofield said the CPOA formed a service where Coast Guard members can request and receive essentials like baby wipes and food. He said this was the best way for the public to help donate since the Coast Guard has rules restricting members from taking donations directly from the public. Right now he said the pool of money for this service is about $2,000 with money from the CPOA, the CWOA and the JOA.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie,” Nguyen said. “We work well together and we’re really members helping members.”
The Coast Guard groups also plan to take part in an event Friday that Eric Adam is organizing. The event is tentatively scheduled for Friday afternoon at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center from 4-6 p.m. to provide information and services to federal workers who are struggling without paychecks.
Bobbie Jo Skibo is another furloughed federal worker. She said they are in the process of planning it and anyone who is interested in helping plan the event can come to a meeting at noon Tuesday at Sacred Grounds coffee shop. They’ve invited legislators and the governor, and are hoping to have live music and food.
“It’s been a cathartic thing for us because we feel so helpless,” she said. “If we’re back to work on Friday, the event will still go on, it will just be a celebration that we got through this.”
Eric Adam is just glad to finally be coming together as a community to help.
“I’m in bad shape, but I don’t care; I’m here to help people,” said Eric Adam. “You’ve got to give it away to get it. It all comes back to you.”
• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at email@example.com or 523-2228.