LIHUE — As the government shutdown stretches into its fourth week, local organizations are stepping up to take care of federal employees feeling the strain of nearly a month without pay.
When the Kauai Independent Food Bank in Nawiliwili opened on Wednesday morning, volunteers found three Transportation Security Administration employees and their families waiting patiently at the front door.
The food bank’s director, Kelvin Moniz, said that by lunchtime, 18 TSA workers had come with their families to the food bank to receive two-weeks’ worth of staples like rice, canned meat and vegetables, eggs, tofu and water. By Thursday afternoon, 16 more TSA employees had come by seeking assistance.
Paycheck to paycheck
This week marks the first in which the federally employed airport screeners missed their regular paychecks due to a lapse in government funding, and for some TSA employees on Kauai, the interruption in cash flow could have serious consequences.
Lisa Marie Akau, a national organizer with the American Federation of Government Employees — the labor union representing TSA workers along with about 700,000 other federal employees — said Thursday that TSA screeners, particularly those in Hawaii, are uniquely affected by the shutdown.
“The national perspective on federal employees is skewed,” Akau said. According to Akau, while many believe that all government workers are highly paid, that is simply not the case with most TSA employees.
The average TSA screener in Hawaii makes a little under $20 an hour, or about $40,000 a year, and entry-level employees earn significantly less, Ten percent of the state’s TSA screeners get by on an annual salary of $34,000, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates.
And those figures shrink further considering what it costs to live in Hawaii. The state’s cost of living is nearly double the national average, meaning many TSA workers are heavily dependent on regularly scheduled income to keep up with monthly expenses.
“They must be terrified,” Akau said. “We don’t know when it’s going to end.”
Keeping up with demand
In just two days, KIFB has contributed over 3,000 pounds of food to feed federal employees and their families, but it is not prepared to handle this kind of volume for any extended period of time. Already, Moniz has begun dipping into some of the supplies set aside for the food bank’s regular programs, and he wonders what will happen if the shutdown continues much longer. Today he is expecting at least 10 to 15 members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“We’re asking for needs in the future,” Moniz said. If the standoff in Washington, D.C., remains unresolved through next week, Moniz predicts the food bank will also need to meet a growing demand for essential household items like toiletries and diapers.
“It’s kind of like a disaster,” said Leona Perez, KIFB programs manager. Perez said she sees it as her duty to do everything she can to take care of others in her community. “These are our friends and our family,” she said.
For Moniz, helping the federal employees is nothing more than returning a long-overdue favor. “They’ve been here every year,” he said, describing the annual food drive put on by TSA employees.
“All we can do is pray,” Moniz said. “We are expecting the worst but hoping for the best.”
The KIFB also needs extra volunteers. Call 246-3809, ext. 2, for more information. The food bank also needs more food. Non-perishables can be dropped off at any county fire station. Financial donations can be made at kauaifoodbank.org by clicking the “Donate Now” button.
The Hawaii Food Bank also is gearing up to help federal employees at its locations on Oahu and Kauai. Its website offers information on how people impacted by the shutdown can get emergency food assistance and says the organization is “preparing for a potential influx in food needs.”
Wes Perreira, director of the Hawaii Food Bank Kauai branch, said Thursday that no TSA employees have sought help at his organization yet, but he is keeping an eye on the situation.
“We are just waiting and preparing,” Perreira said. The TSA workers Perreira has been in contact with told him they are doing OK so far because it has only been a couple days since their first missed paycheck. But Perreira said he is aware that hundreds of federal employees on Kauai will be in serious need of assistance if the shutdown continues for much longer.
“If it all breaks loose, we will make a plea to the public,” he said, explaining that because the Hawaii Food Bank is part of a statewide network, his branch can have large quantities of food and resources shipped in even on short notice.
“We’re ready to help whoever, whenever,” Perreira said.
Donations to the Hawaii Food Bank can by made at hawaiifoodbank.org.
Dogs and cats
Even the Kauai Humane Society is helping out to make sure pets don’t go hungry. A post on the humane society’s Facebook page says, “Are you a federal worker serving the Kauai community without pay during the shutdown? Have you been furloughed with no idea of when you can return to work? Our Gomez Galley program is here to help!”
Anyone with proof of federal employment can pick up food for their pets during the government shutdown at any one of three locations: the KHS shelter in Puhi, St. Catherine Church in Kapaa or the St. William Church in Hanalei.
For more information or to learn when food is available for pickup, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 632-0610.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.