Federal Shutdown 2019: How Travelers Can Help

Capitol building and reflection poolCapitol building and reflection pool
Brandon Bourdages/Dreamstime

As the government shutdown drags on and some federal employees are forced to work without pay, there are ways you can help ease their increasingly urgent financial troubles.

With the longest government shutdown in America’s history hitting the one-month mark today, many federal employees and contractors are struggling to make ends meet. Some 800,000 government workers have been furloughed or required to work without compensation since the shutdown began in late December, and though the President signed a bill ensuring they’ll receive back pay once Washington reopens for business, they're still contending with immediately pressing concerns like rent, bills, and how to put food on the table. (Contractors have no such safety net, but last week, a handful of Democratic senators introduced legislation that would secure back pay for low-wage contract earners as well). Here's how you can help.

First Things First: What's the Damage?

Transportation Security Administration airport screeners are considered essential and required to work, but the organization has seen a decrease in available personnel as the shutdown drags on, with unscheduled employee absences rising steadily from 6.8 percent on Jan. 14 to 10 percent on Jan. 20. The National Park Service is also feeling the burn: An estimated 16,000 employees—80 percent of its total workforce—is currently furloughed, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, and our protected lands are sustaining heavy damage without the proper oversight in place.

federal-workers-chef-jose-andres.jpg?mtime=20190121113940#asset:104554(Courtesy World Central Kitchen)

How Can Travelers Pitch In?

Contrary to rumors making the social-media rounds, executive-branch employees like TSA workers aren’t allowed to accept cash tips, but there are other ways you can lend a hand. Hunger is a real issue, and federal employees are leaning hard on food banks, as well as churches and other community organizations. Consider giving time, money, and/or supplies to food pantries working directly with these impacted populations, and look into the on-site resources available to TSA, customs, and Federal Aviation Administration employees before you leave for the airport—you may be able to bring groceries and the like to donate. At the Tampa airport, for example, a pop-up food bank is offering provisions to employees working without pay; local groups in Texas are distributing food to workers right at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, and in Seattle, there's a donation area on the airport's mezzanine level where non-perishable food and gift cards are being accepted.

If your airport doesn’t have anything like that in place, you can still make a difference. Give your business to one of the many private companies providing assistance, whether it’s waiving late fees on bill payments or offering discounts on dining and events, or give your dollars to a group that’s doing the work on the ground. Through his humanitarian organization, World Central Kitchen, chef José Andrés set up a kitchen in D.C. to feed federal employees during the crisis, and he’s not the only celebrity helping out. Jon Bon Jovi’s New Jersey restaurant, Soul Kitchen, is a nonprofit that allows any guest—regardless of employment status—to pay a suggested donation or work a shift in return for a meal. (Both organizations accept tax-deductible donations.)

Planning a trip? Look for an Airbnb host participating in the company’s A Night On Us program, which pays executive-branch employees for an extra night, up to $110, for hosting a three-night stay. You can also buy a beer for a federal worker or contractor, or give to one of nearly 2,000 GoFundMe campaigns for people affected by the shutdown.

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