As the partial federal government shutdown moves toward a fourth week, a historic church in Memphis, Tennessee, has stepped in to help their affected members weather an uncertain period of missed paychecks.
Pastor Donald Johnson of Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church told News Channel 3 that a few of his members work for government agencies such as the IRS. So when he first heard about the shutdown he began proactively looking at ways to help.
“I just realized people were going to be affected by it, and we didn’t want to spend any time just arguing and fighting about what the president is doing," Johnson said.
He combed through the church’s database and found eight members who were federal workers. He then collected an offering and had the church’s financial board match what was collected and was able to raise $8,000.
The affected workers were asked to stand in church on Sunday and were given nearly $1,000 each.
“We didn’t want to look at them as a handout or people that were asking, but we wanted to be kind of proactive in that area," Johnson said.
Church member Janice Bankston who has worked for the IRS for nearly 35 years, told Fox 13 that she survived being furloughed before but this shutdown feels a bit different. She added that the past few weeks have been stressful.
“The uncertainty of what’s going to happen, how soon we can return, don’t know how you’re going to pay your bills,” Bankston told Fox 13.
Wall Street Journal opinion columnist Kimberly Strassel noted that unlike other shutdowns — like Obama's 16-day shutdown in 2013 in which "the administration immediately furloughed workers and cut pay for private contractors," and shut down Head Start and placed barricades around the World War II memorial — President Trump told the Office of Management and Budget to make "this event as painless as possible."
"Yet there are no legal fixes for some truly painful effects — including Friday’s missed paycheck for 800,000 federal workers," Strassel added.
While there will be no further payments for food stamps or for the Coast Guard, she noted that under the partial federal shutdown some agencies can continue to function to protect safety and human life and property, "as well as in aid of the president’s fulfilling constitutional duties."
As a result, programs such as Social Security and Medicare fall under “indefinite” appropriations and must continue during the shutdown. For example, even though the Social Security Administration and Treasury Department are both technically shut down, they have to process Social Security checks that operate under continuous appropriations as well as tax refunds.
Bankston received her pay two weeks ago and expects to be paid on Friday but said it wouldn’t be her full paycheck and she wouldn’t have much left after taxes are deducted.
“It’s very scary, I’ve been able to get some creditors to put off receiving a payment and some are saying no you have to bring the payment on in,” Bankston explained. “It’s very scary to know you’re not going to have any income coming in.”
Reacting to the assistance from her church, she said: “I didn’t see it coming, but I am grateful, very grateful.”
Johnson told Fox 13 that he's hoping other churches will mobilize and help their affected members, and noted that if they have to help affected members financially again, they will. He's praying, however, that the shutdown will end.
“We’ll do it again if it goes on. We’re praying that things change but if it doesn’t, we’re not going to let them go without, how about that!” Johnson said.