How You Can Get Help (And Help) During The Government Shutdown

Jan 21, 2019

With many in the Austin area going without a paycheck as the partial government shutdown continues, local organizations and agencies have put the call out for donations to help employees during this difficult time.

Central Texas Food Bank

The Central Texas Food Bank, which says it is under strain due to the increased demand, is asking for monetary donations. It says a longtime volunteer at the food bank is matching donations up to $5,000.

Those in need of help can visit the Central Texas Food Bank website for a list of locations to receive free food.

As KUT reported last week, food banks in the region are preparing for an "unprecedented" number of requests during the shutdown. 

“It sounds bad, but we’ll sleep late, because then we don’t eat breakfast,” said Kevin Drapela, an IRS employee who lives in Taylor. “That way we eat two meals instead of three.”

Paying utilities

If you're directly affected by the shutdown, the City of Austin can help by postponing collection activity on your account for 30 days. If service was disconnected because of a recent nonpayment, the city says, service will be restored.

The city will also evaluate if a customer is eligible for a Customer Assitance Program or payment arrangements. Customers experiencing financial hardship are urged to contact Customer Care at 512-494-9400.

A cash advance

PayPal is offering $500 in an interest-free cash advance — what it calls the equivalent of one week's take-home pay — for existing and new customers who are federal employees and struggling to make ends meet.

The company has committed to fund up to $25 million in cash advances to affected employees.

Free diapers and wipes

The Austin Diaper Bank is helping federal employees by offering free diapers and wipes available for pickup from Catholic Charities of Central Texas.

You'll need to take your federal ID to 1625 Rutherford Ln. in Northeast Austin from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

If you're looking to help local families, you can donate diapers or dollars at AustinDiapers.org.

Getting around town

All federal government employees can ride Capital Metro services for free during the shutdown. 

The only thing you have to do is show your federal government employee ID to the bus operator or fare inspector. Cap Metro says the free rides are available on all of its services, including MetroRail and MetroAccess.

Medical services 

If you are a federal working living in Travis County, you can to go to any CommUnityCare clinic and receive medical services even if you cannot pay.

“We do not turn anyone away,” said Monica Saavedra, the director of Marketing and Community Relations for CommUnityCare. Saavedra also says if federal workers – or anyone – is having trouble re-filling a prescription, they can also go to the clinic chain’s pharmacies.

“If the patient fills his or her prescription through our pharmacy then we will fill them regardless of their ability to pay,” Saavedra said, “if they fill them through an associate pharmacy like H-E-B or Walmart, etc. then those pharmacy’s rules apply.”

Gas cards for Lyft drivers

Lyft is providing its drivers who are federal employees with $20 gas cards. Drivers can pick the cards up at 1021 E. 7th St Suite #102 in East Austin. 

The company says one card is available per driver while supplies last.

Free children's museum visits

Federal employees and contractors affected by the shutdown can get into the Thinkery children's museum for free on weekdays, and bring along up to three guests per visit. The museum says the offer will be in effect for the duration of the shutdown.

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Do you know of an organization or business helping out federal employees during the shutdown? Email andy@KUT.org to add to this list.

KUT's Sangita Menon and Ashley Lopez contributed to this story.

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