Four weeks into the US government shutdown, cash-strapped federal workers are tapping life savings, selling possessions and turning to soup kitchens to make ends meet – ramping up pressure on Wednesday for leaders in Washington to strike a deal.
Communities from Washington to Kodiak, Alaska are feeling increasing pain, with the cutoff of paychecks to families snowballing to hit stores and businesses dependent on their spending.
Volunteer groups are collecting food to hand out, towns are organising job fairs, and banks and telecommunications firms have loosened rules on payments, all to cushion the hardship.
In Washington, celebrated chef Jose Andres launched a “ChefsforFeds” program with a new “food kitchen” offering free meals to hard-hit workers on Pennsylvania Avenue – halfway between the White House and Congress.
In Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other states, furloughed federal workers were getting advice on applying for unemployment benefits.
And in Middletown, New York, Pets Alive, an animal shelter, announced free dog and cat food for the pets of families hit by the shutdown.
“We will provide 1 bag of food per family, Need proof of fed employment,” they announced.
By afternoon on Wednesday, there was no sign of a breakthrough in the faceoff between US President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress, which led to the partial shutdown of the government on December 22.
More than 800 000 federal workers didn’t get paid last week, pain shared by several million more contractors who also have been idled by the shutdown – many of them low-paid service workers who live paycheck to paycheck.
Trump insists he won’t agree to open the government until Congress signs off on his demand for $5.7bn to build a border wall, which he argues is needed to prevent illegal immigration.
“It is becoming more and more obvious that the Radical Democrats are a Party of open borders and crime. They want nothing to do with the major humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.