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Furloughed federal workers in Whatcom County find some help during the U.S. shutdown

Trump makes the case for border wall funding in prime-time address

In a prime-time address from the Oval Office, President Trump made the case for border wall funding on Jan. 8. He said the only solution for the government shutdown to end “is for democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders.”
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In a prime-time address from the Oval Office, President Trump made the case for border wall funding on Jan. 8. He said the only solution for the government shutdown to end “is for democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders.”

Furloughed federal workers in Washington state are starting to getting offers of help.

Those workers impacted by the partial federal government shutdown can apply for unemployment benefits to help meet financial obligations, according to a news release from the state’s Employment Security Department. The agency has also set up a web page specifically for impacted federal employees.

“Just like other workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own, federal workers have the unemployment safety net to help them through this difficult time,” said Suzi LeVine, employment security department commissioner.

Across Washington state about 1,000 federal workers have submitted unemployment benefits applications during this shutdown, which started on Dec. 22, according to the news release.

As required by law, furloughed workers who later receive back pay should plan to repay any benefits received. Federal employees who are currently working full time but are not being paid during the shutdown are not eligible for unemployment benefits, said Bretta Beveridge, communications manager at the ESD in an email.

Shutdown impact in Whatcom County

The agency estimates 1,377 federal workers work in Whatcom County, but not all are being impacted by the shutdown. More than 73,000 federal employees worked in Washington state as of the first quarter of 2018. According to an article in The Washington Post, about 11,600 of those Washington state federal workers are being impacted by this shutdown.

In Whatcom County, federal employees impacted by the shutdown include TSA agents at the airport and those working at the border. Bellingham International Airport wait times are, so far, not noticeably longer than usual, said Mike Hogan, spokesman for the Port of Bellingham in an email. He added that no other port operations or activities have been impacted. Border wait times at the Whatcom County border crossings were also low on Tuesday afternoon, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Some local residents and businesses are also looking for ways to help furloughed workers. After seeing a family friend post about not getting a paycheck, Whatcom County resident Suzanne Westcott-England decided to start Operation Shutdown Fun on her Facebook page. The goal is to reach out to businesses and see if they will donate passes for fun things for impacted families, since fun things are usually the first to go for people on furlough, she said in an email.

As of Tuesday morning, Westcott-England had received several donations or offers to participate from local businesses, including Lynden Skateway, Trampoline Zone and Bellingham Sportsplex.

“I am humbled by the offers we’ve received so far,” Westcott-England said, adding that others who are interested in the project can email her at swestcottengland@gmail.com.

Businesses that tap into loans from the Small Business Administration will also start being impacted, particularly in places like Washington state. According to a new report by ValuePenguin.com, Washington ranks 12th among states most impacted by the SBA not processing loans during the shutdown. The report estimates Washington ranks 8th highest in terms of approved loans.

The operations at Western Washington University’s Small Business Development Center is not being directly impacted by the shutdown, said CJ Seitz, director of the center.

As far as SBA loans go, current clients are not feeling the impact yet because of the processing time, but they can expect a backlog, especially if the shutdown continues.

“I bet in the next few weeks we will start feeling a strain of delayed funding — therefore delayed projects,” Seitz said in an email.

Federal employee Erica Atchley of Kansas City has student loans to pay, credit card bills and animals to feed but the government shutdown has left her in limbo.

Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.
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