By Sophia Ricco
Island Harvest came together with corporate partners to outline steps being taken to ease the burdens of federal employees.
As the 21st shutdown to hit the U.S. government began, workers may not have expected it to break a record as the longest in history. As of Thursday – one month and two days in – over 800,000 federal employees have not received salaries. The sudden loss of pay has disrupted employees’ financial situations, leaving many unable to meet the bills and buy food. Local food banks, like Island Harvest, have stepped up, providing food and additional resources.
“Long Island’s high cost of living presents numerous challenges to hardworking families struggling to make ends meet,” president and CEO of Island Harvest Food Bank, Randi Shubin Dresner said. “Trying to keep up with mortgages, loan payments, paying for medicine, and putting food on the table creates an additional burden for federal employees who are working without a paycheck. Collaborating with our corporate and local government partners, we’re helping to ease those burdens.”
The mission of Island Harvest is to help Long Islanders struggling with food insecurity and poverty, while responding to disasters and emergencies. The organization has classified the shutdown as an emergency, encouraging employees to reach out if they need assistance with food or bills. Dresner finds it “unfortunate” that workers must face hardships, while the government battles over the budget. Many have expressed they love their job and are eager to go back.
“What we recognize is that, most of these federal employees, have never asked for help before,” Dresner said. “They are people who are living somewhat comfortably and we’re finding that these people were volunteers and contributors to organizations like ours. They’re accustomed to being on the other side.”
Island Harvest has food banks in Bethpage, Uniondale, and Hauppauge, along with mobile food pantry units that go where there is need. Dresner recommends those with food insecurity call 516-294-8528 to be directed to the nearest site.
Additionally, Island Harvest makes signing up for SNAP simple; federal workers can apply over the phone. SNAP would give workers an allowance for groceries to help them get through the shutdown.
“It’s important for those impacted by the shutdown to know that there’s no shame in asking for help… We want our neighbors who are struggling, to know that Island Harvest treats people with dignity and respect,” Dresner said. “We recognize that this is a very difficult time for them and we want to help and do what we can to get them the resources they need, even if it’s for a short period of time.”
Corporate partner PSEG is allowing a 60-day grace period, with no late fees, for federal employees. Call 800-490-0025. Teachers Federal Credit Union is offering loan payment extensions and other assistance to affected members. And impacted families can apply for free or reduced-price school meals for their children. Resources can be found at islandharvest.org.
“This disaster is horrible, it causes people to become very stressed,” Dresner said. “They need to respond for themselves quickly to find resources. When you’re dealing with a stressful situation, like a loss of salary, all of sudden you’re dealing with a lot of things at the same time. The resources we have can help people struggling in this way.”
In addition to Island Harvest, Long Island Cares’ Harry Chapin Food Bank at 220 Broadway, Huntington Station, is offering help. The pantry is open Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.. Call 631-824-6384.