Federal employees are returning to work this week after the nation’s longest government shutdown left more than 800,000 workers without pay for 35 days.
Communities across the nation stepped up to support federal employees feeling the financial strain of the shutdown. True to form, generous Houstonians were quick to respond in kind.
The City of Houston partnered with the Houston Relief Hub, a non-profit organization, to provide federal workers in need with donated items such as non-perishable food, cleaning items and diapers. Furloughed federal employees in need of immediate assistance were able to apply for a $100 voucher and obtain information about organizations and private sector companies that are providing special assistance. The Houston Relief Hub is no longer accepting voucher applications.
Houston Public Works is providing a special grace period on water/wastewater bill payments by federal employees affected by the federal governmentshutdown. Federal workers who pay City of Houston water bills are eligible to receive a 30-day extension of their payment deadline without penalties or interest charges. The grace period continues through the end of February.
“We want to do our part to help fellow Houstonians in their time of need,” Mayor Turner said. “We hope to ease the burden of federal employees who, through no fault of their own, are being forced to make a huge personal sacrifice.”
City operations weren’t disrupted by the shutdown, but 2,049 federally badged employees work at Bush Intercontinental Airport and 944 federally badged employees work at Hobby Airport. The Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint and the ticketing counter in Terminal B at George Bush Intercontinental Airport were closed due to staffing issues. During that time, HAS volunteers helped direct passengers with flights scheduled to depart from Terminal B to the ticket counters and TSA checkpoints in Terminal C and Terminal E. Terminal B ticketing and security checkpoint reopened on Wednesday, Jan. 30.
The Houston Food Bank brought their mobile pantry to IAH to offer aid, and Houston Health Department employees provided on-site WIC enrollment for airport federal workers who met WIC guidelines.
“Offers for food other donations began pouring in from everywhere, said Hobby Airport Superintendent Byron Oujesky, “The airport federal workers are our friends and our team members. We work side by side with them every day, so we wanted to help coordinate the logistics of any resources to help them. Between the airport concessions vouchers, and community donations, let’s just say none of our TSA and FAA employees were hungry during the work day. The level of support we have seen really shows the spirit of Houstonians.”
Frank Ciaccio, IAH emergency management coordinator, was named the point person to coordinate donations for Bush Intercontinental Airport. The shutdown is over for now, but the city has a plan in place in case it happens again.
“This has really been an eye-opener for everyone,” Ciaccio said. “As fellow public servants, it’s not hard to imagine ourselves in their shoes. TSA is historically one of the lowest paid federal agencies, and you hear the stories about employees working paycheck to paycheck.”
A list of available shutdown assistance resources may be found on the Houston Relief Hub website https://houstonreliefhub.org/. The list will be regularly updated with information helpful to furloughed federal employees. Houstonians are also encouraged to submit tips about shutdown-related resources and deals to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To apply for the City of Houston water bill grace period, call 713-371-1400.