Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion
As 800,000 federal employees face a payless payday Friday, and the president comes closer to declaring a national emergency in order to fund a southern border wall, some Alaska businesses have stepped up to help those who face financial hardship.
Alaska Credit Union 1 released a statement saying affected federal workers can reach out to their bank to request due date extensions on loans, consolidate their loans or even skip a monthly payment.
ENSTAR Natural Gas Company is encouraging impacted federal employees who need assistance with their gas bills to contact their customer service support at 907-27-5551 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’ve put in place a variety of safety measures for our members to help them through this difficult period, so they don’t face long term financial repercussions,” President and CEO of Credit Union 1 James Wileman said in the release.
Some 420,000 federal employees whose work is declared essential are working without pay, including the FBI, TSA and other federal law enforcement officers. Some staff at the State and Homeland Security departments are also working without compensation. An additional 380,000 are staying home without pay. The Senate has approved a bill to provide back pay to federal workers. The House must vote on it. Trump said this week that federal workers will “get their money.” Government contractors, who have been placed indefinitely on unpaid leave, don’t get compensated for lost hours.
Most of the government workers received their last paycheck two weeks ago, and Friday will be the first payday with no money.
The partial government shutdown, which entered its 21st day Thursday, began after lawmakers refused President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for a southern border wall. Since then, lawmakers and Trump have been unable to come to an agreement, with negotiations stalled and the threat of a national emergency declaration looming.
On the peninsula, the shutdown has so far had limited impact on public services but some workers are going without pay.
Federal Aviation Administration employees, which include air traffic controllers and technicians at the Kenai airport, are still performing essential duties, but without pay, Greg Martin, a spokesperson with the FAA, told the Clarion in December after the shutdown began.
Martin said FAA employees in Kenai, and around the nation, remain on the job to retain public safety.
“There’s no operational impact for Kenai because air traffic controllers and technicians remain on the job,” Martin said.
At the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center, which has been closed since employees were furloughed at the beginning of the shutdown, trails remained unmaintained Thursday. There were no signs, however, of the vandalism or overflowing trash that have plagued other national parks and wilderness. Activities have been allowed to continue on the refuge, but a sign outside the refuge warned that entrance into the refuge will be at the risk of the visitor.
Both Lake Clark National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park remain accessible to visitors. Access may change without notice and current conditions will not be updated. Visitors should enter at their own risk.
The Kenai office for the United States Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is closed due to the partial government shutdown, according to their office voicemail.
An employee at the Soldotna office for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said funding for the corps was passed before the shutdown, giving them enough funding to last the fiscal year. An employee at the Kenai office of Women Infants and Children said the office will remain open as long as the shutdown doesn’t carry over into February.
Alaska U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan spoke out about the shutdown and border security.
“I continue to stress that there is no good reason for a shutdown,” a Wednesday statement from Murkowski’s Twitter read. “The reality is thousands of federal employees and contractors have no paycheck in sight, small businesses that rely on them are suffering and there’s no reason they should be held hostage to a political dispute.”
Sullivan also released a statement Wednesday addressing the shutdown.
“I wish I could tell you when this is going to end — the partial government shutdown,” Sullivan said in his video address. “The good news is we actually, last year, funded the vast majority of the government through the appropriations process. But while this continues, I will continue to work with federal agencies to try to minimize the impact of the shutdown on Alaskans.”
Sullivan said he worked with senior officials at the Department of Commerce to make sure the cod fishery opened on time, and that he will work to make sure future fisheries open in Alaska with federal government support.
“I was able to commend (President Trump’s) team to him for working with us to keep our fisheries open — that’s hundreds of millions of dollars for Alaska communities and hundreds if not thousands of people working in our fishing industry who are out there fishing now,” Sullivan said.
He said he personally encouraged Trump to continue making sure federal agencies are helping Alaskans and Americans.
“I mentioned FEMA — as it continues to work on the recovery from the massive earthquake that hit our state on November 30 — to make sure FEMA is helping Alaskans now to the extent allowed by law,” Sullivan said. “That was an issue I raised with the president today.”
Sullivan also said he introduced a bill that would ensure members of the Coast Guard continue to get paid through the shutdown. The Coast Guard is the only branch of the military not getting paid.
“I know it’s a difficult issue because other federal agency members are not getting paid,” Sullivan said. “But I believe that the brave men and women of the Coast Guard throughout Alaska and our country — who do an amazing job and are risking their lives every day for us protecting the homeland, keeping our fisheries safe and secure — should be getting paid. I know this shutdown is tough for many federal workers and their families in Alaska. They do great work for us and our nation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.