Heart of Missouri steps up to help furloughed federal workers

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COLUMBIA – As the partial government shutdown continues in Washington, Heart of Missouri United Way is stepping up to help federal workers affected by the shutdown.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 55, 202 federal employees in the state of Missouri. In Boone County, there are 2,536.

“With over 2,200 federal workers in our area, everyone likely either directly or indirectly know someone that might be furloughed or might be utilizing federal benefits that might suffer some kind of risk due to the shutdown,” Heart of Missouri Executive Director Andrew Grabau said.

So far, federal employees have missed one paycheck. Friday, some of them will miss a second one.

With no end in sight, the Heart of Missouri is preparing for an increase in the number of furloughed workers struggling to make ends meet. Even though they’re no receiving paychecks, they still have to pay rent, utility bills, and other everyday living expenses.

While the community does have resources to help federal workers, Grabau said they are already stretched thin.

“While we have a really strong safety net, that safety net is already operating at its peak,” Grabau said. “We worry that if we do start to see additional people utilizing these survives it is really going to stress our existing plans.”

If the shutdown continues to drag on, Grabau worries it could limit the resources Heart of Missouri can provide throughout the rest of the year. 

“If we see a prolonged increase, then we really are going to find new financial resources and other ways to provide those services,” Grabau said.

Grabau said the best piece of advice he could give to a federal worker who was struggling to make ends meet is to reach out for help. 

Furloughed workers can call 211, a referral service to learn more about which social services they qualify to benefit from.

For many furloughed workers, missing payments like rent of their mortgage are high among their concerns.

“If they are concerned about their financial situation we did talk to a number of local banks, and the best advice they gave is to pick up the phone and call them,” Grabau said. 

With very little progress on Capitol Hill, it seems federal workers are going to be in for a long haul. And if both sides are not able to come to an agreement soon, Grabau community members could feel the effects of this shutdown for a long time to come.

“If it is a long-term challenge, we are really going to have to look inward at how we create some resources,” Grabau said.