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Banks, utilities, restaurants and others offer aid to furloughed federal workers in NC

Federal employees march in protest of the government shutdown in Raleigh

Nearly a hundred government workers marched in protest of the government shutdown outside the Federal Building on New Bern Avenue on Friday, January 11, 2019 in Raleigh, N.C.
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Nearly a hundred government workers marched in protest of the government shutdown outside the Federal Building on New Bern Avenue on Friday, January 11, 2019 in Raleigh, N.C.

With the partial government shutdown persisting for more than a month now, many businesses and organizations across the Triangle are offering assistance to workers who have been furloughed.

An estimated 7,800 people in the federal workforce in North Carolina are affected by the shutdown caused by the budget impasse over President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, The Washington Post reported last week. For many of these workers, a paycheck hasn’t come since December.

While Congress has approved back pay for federal workers who have been furloughed, it is still unclear when the government will be re-opened or how long it will take for those checks to go out once it does.

In the meantime, around 800 federal workers had applied for unemployment insurance in North Carolina as of last week, according to the state’s Department of Employment Security, though not all of them are eligible for the short-term help. Federal workers who still have to work throughout the shutdown, like TSA agents and air-traffic controllers, are not eligible for the unemployment benefits, despite the fact that they aren’t currently getting paid, the U.S. Labor Department ruled last week.

But response from local organizations and businesses has been swift, from restaurants offering free food, breweries offering free beer and a martial-arts studio offering free tuition to federal workers.

Transportation

While gas prices have come down, getting around is still expensive so GoTriangle is now giving free rides to federal employees who have to work during the shutdown. You’ll have to show your government ID when you board. If you’re not sure if the federal agency you work for is on a GoTriangle route, you can check and plan your trip at gotriangle.org.

GoTriangle’s board made the decision on Wednesday. “Transportation costs can be an expensive part of a family budget, so we hope this gesture eases some of the burden for our friends who work for the federal government,” Jeff Mann, GoTriangle’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

The Harvest Hope food bank donated food and water to the furloughed TSA employees working at Columbia Metropolitan Airport. 67 federal employees have been working for nearly a month without pay due to the government shutdown.

Banking

Wells Fargo: If you’re a furloughed worker and get stuck with an overdraft or non-sufficient fund fee on your checking account, Wells Fargo will automatically reverse the charge. It will do the same for monthly service fees and it won’t charge late fees if you have a Wells Fargo credit card. The caveat: Your November 2018 paycheck needs to have been deposited directly into your account from your workplace. The bank says it “will work” with customers who don’t have direct deposit. If you’re having trouble paying your mortgage, call the company to talk about a short- or long-term aid. The bank says “Wells Fargo Home Lending customers who contact the company to discuss payment options won’t be assessed late charges or be subject to negative credit reporting, and applicable foreclosure activities will be placed on hold, for up to 90 days.”

Bank of America: Aron Levine, head of Consumer Banking, for the Charlotte-based bank said in a statement that customers should use its Client Assistance Program. He says help could include loan modifications and fee waivers. The bank has set up an assistance phone line: 844-219-0690.

BB&T: Again, fee waivers and payment extensions are possible and customers are encouraged to contact their local branch. The bank supplied these numbers for furloughed workers to call if they can’t get to a branch. For personal loans, call 800-222-1913. For mortgages, call 800-827-3722, then press 9. For credit cards, call 800-289-6385. If you have general questions, call 800-226-5228.

First Citizens Bank: Frank Smith, a spokesman for the Raleigh bank, says: “First Citizens Bank is making temporary payment arrangements available to federal workers who might be affected by the shutdown, like extending retail loan payments. We are offering special deferrals on debit and credit card accounts. That means deferred monthly payments and things like waiving fees from using other ATMs, as well as on cash advances and expedited card delivery. We will work with (customers) on deferred payments.”

PNC: PNC says it is “prepared to waive certain fees and take other appropriate actions.” It says customers should call about short-term loans and other programs.

Taxes

Certified Public Accountants who are members of the National Conference of CPA Practitioners are offering discounts to furloughed workers with proof of employment. Call 516-333-8282 to get the names of the three CPAs in your area who are participating.

Utilities

With energy bills coming due at the end of the month, many utilities in the state have issued announcements reminding federal workers that they have long-standing programs available to help with bill payments and with deferrals for customers who are experiencing financial hardship. Each utility has specific programs, with their own eligibility requirements, in each state where they operate. Customers are encouraged to call the customer service phone number on their utility bill to discuss options.

The state also has a program to prevent hardships. Under a policy established by the N.C. Utilities Commission, some customers are protected from having their power cut off between Nov. 1 and March 31 for nonpayment of bills. To qualify, the household must have a member who is elderly or disabled, and the eligibility requires government certification. The Energy Crisis Assistance program requires certification from your county Department of Social Services.

Duke Energy offers a program in which local social services agencies help customers pay electricity bills that the customers can’t afford to pay. This program is called Share the Warmth in the part of the state that includes Chapel Hill and Durham, and Energy Neighbor Fund in the area that includes Raleigh and eastern counties. Duke can also work out a deferred payment plan for customers with temporary financial difficulties who are unable to pay a past due bill, said spokeswoman Grace Rountree. Duke Energy Carolinas customers can call 800-777-9898 for Share the Warmth; Duke Energy Progress customers can call 800-452-2777 for Energy Neighbor Fund.

Piedmont Natural Gas, which is owned by Duke Energy, offers similar programs. Piedmont’s energy assistance program, which helps customers with monthly bills, is overseen by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services in all North Carolina counties but Mecklenburg, where the program is handled by Crisis Assistance Ministry.

PSNC Energy, the Triangle’s natural gas utility, has already been contacted by federal workers seeking financial assistance, according to a spokeswoman. PSNC refers customers to three programs for payment assistance and payment arrangements, including the PSNC Energy Heat Care Fund and the N.C. Division of Social Services.

Other companies also are willing to work with federal workers to set up payment plans or defer payments. For instance, NBC News has reported that Verizon Wireless will let workers set up payment plans.

Restaurants

The following local restaurants are offering freebies to federal workers who show a government ID.

Durham’s Fullsteam Brewery: a free daily sandwich as long as the shutdown continues. The brewery had offered a free daily beer, but ran afoul of state alcohol regulations.

Trophy Brewing in Raleigh: a free small pizza for one worker or a large one for two at Trophy’s pizzeria (at 827 W. Morgan St.), and a free sandwich and side at Trophy Tap + Table (at 225 S. Wilmington St.) and bottle shop State of Beer (at 401-A Hillsborough St.). Just show your government ID.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill at Triangle Town Center in Raleigh: a free Mom’s Ricotta Meatballs + Spaghetti from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily through Jan. 23 or until the shutdown ends.

The Third Place Coffee Shop on Glenwood Ave., Raleigh: free 12 ounce coffee.

The Fox and Hound restaurant at North Hills in Raleigh is offering a free pepperoni pizza on Wednesdays.

Dos Taquitos on U.S. 70 in Raleigh: one free meal every day the shutdown continues.

Tin Roof Teas in Cameron Village in Raleigh is offering a free tea to any furloughed federal employee during the shutdown.

Fortnight Brewery in Cary is hosting a free dinner for furloughed government workers Friday, Jan. 25 at the brewery located at 1006 SW Maynard Road in Cary. The meal is sponsored by the AARP.

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Where to get emergency help

If you have immediate needs and aren’t sure where to turn for help, start with your church. Many in the area can provide referrals to nonprofits that provide diapers, food and other necessities. In Raleigh, for instance, Doorstep Ministry at Edenton Street United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church on Salisbury Street are referring agencies to the Diaper Train program which provides diapers to families in need. For a full list of its referral agencies go to www.saintsaviourcenter.org/get-help/diaper-train/.

The Diaper Bank of North Carolina at 1311 E Club Blvd in Durham has a list of partner agencies as well. Find it at https://ncdiaperbank.org/triangle/ or call 919-886-8085.

Miscellaneous

Chapel Hill Quest Martial Arts is waiving tuition for a month for federal workers.

Bishops Cuts/Colors, a hair salon in downtown Raleigh, is offering free haircuts for all furloughed federal government employees during the shutdown. Customers just need show their government ID at checkout.

Core Fitness in Raleigh said it will be offering a free month of unlimited classes to furloughed federal workers.

If you want to help

Many people have asked The N&O how they can help furloughed workers. One way is to donate to the organizations that are providing relief.

GoFundMe has launched its own fundraiser with a goal of $300,000 and plans to donate the proceeds to nonprofits across the country that are helping furloughed workers.

If you want to make sure your money is used locally, consider giving to your local food bank or to The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina: 1924 Capital Blvd, Raleigh. 919-875-0707 or www.foodbankcenc.org/

Jessica Slider Whichard, head of communications for the Food Bank, said the nonprofit has had more requests for help since the shutdown began.

“We have seen an increase in need here in Raleigh, as well as at our Food Bank branches in Greenville, Wilmington, Durham, and in the Sandhills,” she said. “We’re working to make sure our partner agencies are stocked up with the extra food they need, and helping support distributions of food specifically for federal workers. We anticipate that the longer the federal lapse in funds last, the more people we will need to help get access to food.

“We’re also getting the word out to people who receive federal nutrition benefits like SNAP and WIC that they’re receiving their funds for the month of February early, and will need to stretch that money for the entire month.”

If you’re a business offering aid or discounts to furloughed workers, email metroeds@newsobserver.com. This list will be updated.

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