Businesses seek to alleviate shutdown woes for federal workers with freebies

Greg Nash

Businesses are seeking to alleviate shutdown woes for the 800,000 federal workers working without pay with freebies and special programs across the country. 

Restaurants are offering free food for workers who present their government IDs, historic sites are offering passes to federal workers, major banks are rolling out special assistance programs, and some centers are even offering free knitting classes for government employees. 

{mosads}Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are furloughed or working without pay due to the partial government shutdown, which entered its 13th day on Thursday. There is a real possibility that many of them won’t see a paycheck until Jan. 25, CBS News reported, and many families living paycheck-to-paycheck are feeling the squeeze as the shutdown nears the two-week mark. 

Major banks, including Bank of America, Citi and Wells Fargo, have rolled out assistance programs for federal workers hurt by the partial government shutdown, which began on Dec. 22.

Wells Fargo has said it will consider reversing overdraft fees for customers affected by the shutdown, CNBC reported. Bank of America told the news outlet that it is working on a case-by-case basis, and can offer assistance including fee waivers and loan modifications depending on the circumstance. 

USAA Bank and Transportation Federal Credit Union say they can provide low-interest loans to their federal worker customers, according to CNN.  

USAA told CNN “thousands” of workers have reached out to the bank for assistance or advice since the shutdown began.
Democracy Federal Credit Union says it will offer a short-term emergency loan with zero percent interest during the shutdown.  

Meanwhile, restaurants in states that host significant numbers of federal workers say they will give free meals to workers who come in with identification at certain hours of the day.

In the Washington, D.C., area, the region with the highest percentage of federal employees, dozens of restaurants and bars have announced deals for federal workers pinched by the partial shutdown. 

Celebrity chef José Andrés is offering free lunch at any of his Washington restaurants for the entirety of the shutdown, he announced on Twitter.

“Do you worry for the Federal employees going through Christmas without getting paid?” he tweeted on Dec. 28. “I do…⁦@realDonaldTrump ⁩ while you keep the Government shutdown, we will feed them ⁦!” He tagged other businesses offering free meals, including build-your-own-pizza joint &Pizza.

Andrés and several other D.C. restaurants have been offering free meals to federal workers during shutdowns since 2013.

Italian restaurant Carmine’s is offering a “hard times cocktail” for $6 all day to federal workers. The drink consists of bourbon, orange juice and Compari, according to Fox 5. Federal employees can also receive free meatball sliders from the restaurant between 2-4 p.m. every day. 

Capitol Lounge has a host of shutdown-themed drinks offered to federal workers for $5. 

District Doughnut and Baked by Yael, two D.C. favorites, are offering free coffee to government employees throughout the shutdown. 

A BBQ joint in Ohio is continuing a tradition of offering free meals to those affected by the shutdown, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. The restaurant offered the same deal during the beginning-of-the-year shutdown in 2018.

Restaurants in Indianapolis, Michigan, Colorado and more are offering similar deals.

Other organizations are seeking to help keep federal workers entertained during the prolonged partial shutdown.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C., is taking 15 percent off online tickets bought by government workers during the shutdown, and the city’s National Building Museum is offering free admission.

In Alexandria, Va., another hotspot for federal workers, organizations are offering free knitting classes, free metalworking lessons and discounts on tickets to a local “escape room,” according to local outlet

One of the country’s largest unions representing federal workers this week sued the Trump administration over the government shutdown, claiming that it is illegal to require employees to work without pay.

“We’re getting very close to the point where people will be missing their paychecks,” Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, told CBS News.

“We had federal employees who were literally taking Christmas presents that were wrapped and ready to give, and taking them back to the store,” Erwin added. “They were hunkering down for lean times.”

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