Community organizers rally around federal workers after shutdown

The federal governments’ first day open leaves federal employees in Iowa with temporary relief, continued help from community organizations.



(Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Emily Wangen, Politics Reporter

Despite Monday being the first day back for many federal employees in  Iowa, community organizers continue to help workers affected by the 35-day shutdown until a regular pay schedule resumes.

To help federal workers affected by the shutdown, the United Way of Central Iowa partnered with the Des Moines Area Religious Council to launch the Feeding our Federal Workers, a two-day mobile food pantry in Des Moines to provide a week’s worth of groceries for their households at no cost.

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“The fact is that they still don’t have a paycheck yet, and they’re supposed to be paid sometime this week, they’re supposed to get their back pay, but the need is still there,” said Andy TeBockhorst, chief strategic communications officer for United Way of Central Iowa. “Even if you’re going to be paid, right now you need groceries.”

On Monday, the mobile food pantry was at the Des Moines International Airport; it will move to the United Way Human Services Campus today.

TeBockhorst said volunteers alongside corporate sponsors worked with the two organizations to bring the pantry together.

“Our job really is to bring together resources in the community to address needs, and so this is a good example,” he said.

According to estimates from the Washington Post, approximately 2,800 federal workers in Iowa were affected by the shutdown. That figure included 1,900 workers with the Agriculture Department and 200 each affected in the Transportation and Treasury Departments.

The continuing resolution that reopened the government only provides funding until Feb. 15, meaning if there is no deal made between Congress and President Trump, the government will shut down again in fewer than three weeks.

“We’re sitting with bated breath, hoping that they’ll come to an agreement and we don’t have to relive this in three weeks,” said Gregg James, the vice president for the 8th District of the American Federation for Government Employees.

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He said that while he has seen shutdowns in the past, this one has affected workers the most. Even with many employees set to receive back pay, he said, there will still be negative effects.

After a month of being furloughed, some federal employees will return to work and face a backlog of work that was unable to be done during the shutdown.

“That’s going to take additional time, mostly like overtime to catch up on,” James said.

Jen Hanson, who helped provide food and goods for furloughed employees and those working without pay, said that as a former federal employee, she has friends who work for the government in a variety of sectors.

“They need to use their money for daycare, gas to get to work, pay their rent, all these other things,” Hanson said. “Here’s how we can help them — they wouldn’t have to spend money on food or groceries or necessities — they can spend their money that they’re budgeting on the other bills that they need to pay.”