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Government workers still don’t have a salary due to the shutdown. American businesses are helping them out.

Companies are giving away free meals, beer, and knitting classes to furloughed workers.

Government workers protest the shutdown during a demonstration in the Federal Building Plaza on January 10, 2019, in Chicago.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The partial shutdown of the US government has come with plenty of terrible consequences. Federal workers are losing out on paychecks, airports are experiencing the effects of TSA agents working without pay, national parks are getting trashed, and the country is somehow even more politically polarized than it was before.

Some companies are stepping up during the national crisis, though, and offering free meals, groceries, entertainment, and cash to furloughed workers.

About 800,000 workers are suffering because of the government shutdown. The last paycheck federal employees received was on December 28, and although some senators are getting paid, many low-wage employees are not. While the average federal worker earns $85,000 a year, according to the Washington Post, about 110,000 government workers make less than $50,000 a year.

With the shutdown now entering its fourth week, plenty of workers are feeling the hit of the financial burdens that come when paychecks disappear. Thousands of workers have started flooding food banks across the country. One Facebook group, Government Shutdown Swap, as first reported by CNN, has more than 200 federal workers selling belongings like purses, motorcycles, and jewelry to pay for rent and food. Federal workers have also set up more than 1,800 GoFundMe pages.

“Since I have been furloughed, I have been volunteering at the Capital Area Food Bank as well as the DC Central Kitchen,” one Agriculture Department worker who says he needs money for rent and student loans wrote on his GoFundMe page. “I hate to appear as though I am begging, however this is [an] emergency.”

In order to help, many companies are extending offers big and small to help furloughed workers while the government leaves them hanging. Some major corporations, for example, are offering extended time for federal workers to pay their bills. Cellphone companies like AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, for example, have all said they will waive late fees for workers impacted by the shutdown, and will work with them on payment plans. Banks like Chase, Citi, American Express, and Capital One are giving similar offers too.

Washington, DC, has the highest concentration of federal workers. On Wednesday, the corporate food giant Kraft Heinz opened a free pop-up grocery store where federal workers are able to pick up items like cheese, boxed meals, and noodles through Sunday. In return, the company is asking workers donate to a charity of their choice when they’re able to.

“During the government shutdown, parents should not have to worry about putting dinner on the table because they aren’t receiving a paycheck,” Sergio Eleuterio, the company’s head of marketing, told Biz Journals.

Celebrity chef and Nobel Peace Prize nominee José Andrés also opened an emergency kitchen in DC with his humanitarian organization, World Central Kitchen, and is serving free daily meals to federal workers.

Other companies are coming up with creative ways to offer cash. Airbnb announced a new program, “A Night on Us,” that would give an extra $110 to federal workers who host an Airbnb Experience or Airbnb renter in their home for three nights.

“Nearly 1 in 20 Airbnb hosts in the US work in government and we heard from many over the last two weeks that the supplemental income they earn by sharing their home had become even more important in light of the shutdown,” Christopher Nulty, head of Airbnb’s American public affairs, told me. “Airbnb was founded in 2008 by two guys who couldn’t afford their rent and so they opened up their apartment to strangers. We certainly don’t think home sharing is a long-term policy solution for economic inequality, but we do believe it can be an important option for people to help pay the bills and close the gap. We know now, more than ever, members of our community could use a bit of extra help.”

While extra money to host strangers and more time to pay bills might help some workers, many who are creating GoFundMe pages are saying they are in need of basic necessities, like warm meals. And in the absence of government salaries, some private businesses have been stepping in. &pizza, a fast-food chain in DC, has handed out more than 15,000 free pizzas since the shutdown, the company told CNBC. Some food writers in DC put up a website, PayItFurloughed, for people to donate $7.50 for beers to furloughed workers, who can cash in at participating bars in the nation’s capital; 1,626 beers have already been donated.

And it’s not just limited to DC. In Chicago, a bar called Horse Thief Hollow is featuring a “shutdown special” where federal workers can get a free lunch of up to $15 if they show their government ID; according to the Chicago Tribune, the place is feeding about 20 federal workers a day. British Beer Company, which has 10 locations across Massachusetts and New Hampshire, is giving out free meals of up to $50 to any federal workers. In Memphis, local chef and food truck owner Sean Gilliam is driving around handing out his signature Tuscan spinach chicken dishes to federal workers.

”This is just Americans helping Americans,” Gilliam told CNN. “When the going gets tough, we can really take care of our own. That should be the heart of it. I wish it extended into Washington and Congress. But I’m not going to wait for them.”

In New York, volunteers with Masbia, a network of soup kitchens across New York that also hands out food packages on Thursdays, gave out fliers to TSA agents at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, letting them know they could eat for free and pick up groceries at Masbia.

“It takes time for someone to go from receiving a regular paycheck to feel at peace with taking charity,” Alexander Rapaport, Masbia’s executive director, told me over email. “We wanted them to have the information to know where to turn to right away.”

Some small businesses are also trying to help furloughed workers pass the time with free entertainment. In Phoenix, the Valley of the Sun YMCA is giving furloughed government workers free membership, so they can access the facility’s gym and activities. In Tampa, the Florida Orchestra and Ruth Eckerd Hall are offering federal workers free access to concerts. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is giving away free tickets too, as are movie theaters in Charleston, Charlottesville, and Brooklyn. Kings, a bowling alley in Boston, is letting workers bowl for free.

Fibre Space, a yarn store in Alexandria, Virginia, is even offering free knitting classes to furloughed federal workers. While it might not help anyone’s bottom line, it has value beyond the monetary; one store associate told Inc. that people were showing up to the store “to hang out and relax,” and pass time that they “would otherwise spend cleaning out their closets, obsessing about when they’re getting their next paycheck.”

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