Our View: Local businesses strive to help furloughed workers

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(Photo/Free Range Stock)
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Alexandrians have a long history of helping one another out in times of need. We are often cited as one of the leading philanthropic communities in the country – and the old saying “charity begins at home” has never been truer than during the current government shutdown.

Our small business community in particular often steps up to the plate when there’s a need. So, while it’s no surprise that local businesses are again trying to assist workers and their families, it’s still affirming and worth noting.

Alexandria’s proximity to the federal government in Washington means a disproportionate number of city residents, and by extension whole families, are negatively impacted when the federal government shuts down.

According to FY2017 data from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, there are 12,831 city residents who work for the federal government, which is 8.5 percent of our total population of 151,331 that’s listed on the city website. That total population includes students, retirees and stay-at-home spouses, which means the real percentage of our working-age population who are federal employees is much higher than 8.5 percent.

While the shutdown is partial, meaning many federal employees are currently working without pay, it’s difficult to tell which group has it worse: those who are furloughed and therefore at greater risk of not getting full back pay, or those who are working but currently not receiving their salaries. Perhaps the most unfortunate group is federal workers who had planned to take leave over the holidays, but instead had to work – sans paychecks.

Clearly, federal workers are pawns in the high-stakes political game being played by the president and congress. We are not going to assign blame here, though we think there’s plenty of it to go around on all sides, as both Republicans and Democrats are obviously more interested in playing to their bases than they are in resolving this impasse.

But as is often the case, it’s the little guy – or gal or whole family – that suffers when the powerful duke it out.

As our page one story, “Government shutdown hits Alexandria,” illustrates, numerous local businesses are trying to help ease the pain for furloughed workers. Some, such as fibre space and the Torpedo Factory, are offering free classes to help out-of-work federal employees pass the time by learning to knit or paint.

Others are trying to help feed furloughed workers. While some restaurants are offering discounts, several are giving away food. Those include Pork Barrel BBQ, which is donating free pulled pork sandwiches; Diya Indian Cuisine, which is giving away a free lunch buffet; Ten Thousand Villages, which is giving away free fair-trade chocolate bars; Lavender Moon Cupcake, which is donating a free cupcake, and Tequila and Taco, which is giving away free tacos to furloughed federal workers. Visit Alexandria is compiling a list of businesses that are providing free or discounted items to furloughed workers. See www.visitalexandriava. com/openforbusiness/#deals for more information.

We can think of many prior instances when Alexandria’s business community has pitched in to help in times of need, from fundraisers for Al’s Steakhouse, to Go Fund Me pages for residents dealing with illness or loss, to community-building efforts in the aftermath of the Simpson Field shooting. These giveaways for furloughed workers continue a long tradition of rowing together when times get tough.

No, a cupcake, taco or knitted scarf will not replace lost wages. But knowing that your community cares has to help, even if just a bit.

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