Editor’s Note: Though the federal government has reopened for the next three weeks, we recognize that contractors, childcare providers and many other parties that Tonia Wellons highlights in this blog post may never receive backpay, and certainly still suffer from the consequences of the shutdown. In addition, if no budget is reached by February 15, the partial federal shutdown may resume. In light of these ongoing concerns, Wellons’ reminders and recommendations for ways to help still remain deeply relevant to our community.
By Tonia Wellons, Vice President, Community Investment
It has been one month since the partial Federal Government shutdown began and our neighbors in the Greater Washington region, especially in Prince George’s County, continue to be impacted. Most of you have heard the news stories, may be experiencing this first hand, or you have seen the long lines of working families in search of food and other forms of assistance.
We all know that when shocks like this hit the country, they hit communities of color the hardest. With incomes typically lower, personal savings often thinner, and access to networks with deep pockets limited, communities of color suffer the most and often have the longest recovery time.
In my role at the Greater Washington Community Foundation, I have had the opportunity to work closely with nonprofits and funders who have organized very quickly to respond. Here’s a summary of what we have learned and how you might be able to help:
While federal workers are directly impacted, we must not forget that contractors, small business owners, and child care facilities are also affected. We should also be mindful that offices like child support enforcement can’t disburse what they can’t collect.
Local food pantries and food banks need to be replenished. The demographic impacted is unaccustomed to navigating human and social service systems. The response from local grocers, restaurants, and food markets has been welcomed.
Prince George’s County Public Schools has received as many as 500 new applications for free and reduced lunch because of the federal shutdown.
There is an increase in concern about eviction prevention, particularly as we move into proximity of a second missed pay cycle.
Child care is an expense that families are most likely to cut first since they are home. There is a ripple effect on child care providers, children, and workers; and it is often difficult for families to return once they leave.
Families need food and cash assistance to cover the cost of everyday household expenses and medicine.
A community member sorts produce at a local food center.
This week as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is only fitting that we look to his words to guide our steps. His life and his legacy represent the importance of pressing forward to change and challenge federal policies that impact the poor, working class, and especially people of color. His life and legacy is one of vision, advocacy, and action. In his honor, I invite you each to consider several ways that we can support our neighbors affected by the shutdown.
How You Can Help Our Neighbors During and After the Shutdown
1. Ask your friends and neighbors what they need. Reach out to people you know who work for the Federal Government and ask them what they need. Now is the time to get to know your neighbors, to reach out to your friends, and make yourselves available to them. Invite them over for dinner or offer to pay for their children’s school lunch.
2. Donate food and cash to help families meet immediate needs. You can make a donation to your local foodbank, church or school pantry, or school lunch fund. Several of our nonprofit partners throughout the region have mobilized to offer pop-up markets, hand out food or gift cards, and provide support for household essentials and other resources. We have compiled a list of resources to help furloughed federal employees and contractors in need of assistance – and local governments in DC, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County have released resource lists.
3. Encourage those impacted to reach out to their creditors to defer payments. Local banks, utility companies and several other institutions have offered to work with customers to offer loans, flexible payments, and more. The United Way of the National Capital Area has opened four Financial Empowerment Centers located throughout the region, offering direct access to high-quality financial services and guidance at no cost to the client. Check our list of resources for more details.
4. Consider supporting nonprofits addressing the long-term challenges facing our communities. Even after the shutdown ends, the long-term effects will continue to impact our community. Local nonprofits throughout the region will continue their work to support families in need and find solutions for disparities in income, access and opportunity in our communities. The Community Foundation can help you identify nonprofits working to alleviate poverty and hunger, expand access to a quality education, provide training to obtain a living wage job, and improve the quality of life for our region’s most vulnerable residents. Contact us to discuss.
If you are in a position to help our neighbors who may struggle to meet critical needs for food or other financial assistance during this period of uncertainty, please consider giving to our Resilience Fund. Established by individual and institutional donors in March 2017, and housed at Greater Washington Community Foundation, the Resilience Fund’s mission is to respond to changes in federal policy that negatively impact the most vulnerable in our communities. The Fund has set aside $50,000 to help local nonprofits address the most critical needs. With your support, these organizations can increase capacity to do more during this time of uncertainty for our friends, families, and neighbors. Contributions to this fund will support our neighbors now and in the future.
Tonia Wellons leads the Greater Washington Community Foundation’s Community Investment function, which includes competitive and discretionary grant-making, community engagement efforts, and strategic partnerships. She has over 20 years of experience spanning senior leadership roles at the Peace Corps and the World Bank Group to social entrepreneurship for a community-based fund that she founded. In 2016, Tonia was named one of NBC’s Women of Washington.