Local businesses offer deals for federal employees affected by furloughs

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When the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut put out a call for businesses to offer special deals to government employees affected by the shutdown, Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra sat down to determine how to join the effort.

The organization decided to offer two free tickets to the Jan. 26 concert to any federal employee — with a government ID — who is furloughed or working without pay amid the government shutdown.

"I'm really hoping that everyone sees this as an apolitical offer, just to help out people who are living in our community," ECSO Executive Director Caleb Bailey said.

He noted that part of the rationale for offering free tickets rather than just a discount was the recognition that "there probably isn't a lot of discretionary budget right now, even for people under normal circumstances, so we're always thinking of the next level to be accessible to our community."

The partial government shutdown, a result of President Donald Trump's refusal to sign a bill that does not include the funding he seeks for a border wall, has been in effect since Dec. 22. There are about 420,000 "essential" federal employees working without pay and another 380,000 deemed nonessential. 

Trump is considering declaring a national emergency over border security. According to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, apprehensions of people trying to cross the southern border have been declining since 2000.

On Friday, the House passed a measure to guarantee back pay for federal employees, following Senate passage Thursday, The Washington Post reported. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had said Thursday during Senate deliberations that President Trump intended to sign the bill.

Separate but similar legislation, calling for federal contractors to pay employees who have been furloughed because of the shutdown, is pending in Congress, The Washington Post reported.

In response to the shutdown, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut has posted a list on its website of local discounts, with 15 participants as of Friday afternoon. That includes restaurants, stores and more.

For example, Enterprise Computer in Clinton said if a customer provides proof he or she is affected by the shutdown, it will bill the customer later for any labor charges, with payment due 30 days after the government reopens. If Congress doesn't approve back pay, Enterprise will take half off the labor charges, though it noted it has the right to withdraw the offer at any time.

The Slater Memorial Museum in Norwich is offering free museum admission to impacted employees for as long as the shutdown lasts.

"It's the one thing that we can do," museum Director Vivian F. Zoë said with an exasperated laugh. She added, "It is our mission to serve the public and to make them comfortable, and what better way than to give them the opportunity to enjoy some art and maybe escape from the troubles of their day-to-day world at the moment?"

Charter Oak Federal Credit Union is allowing members having difficulty making loan payments to defer payments for up to four months, President and CEO Brian Orenstein said.

Charter Oak does this for any member with a hardship, but now, a box on its homepage pops up with the message, "If you're a Charter Oak member impacted by the federal shutdown and would like to request financial assistance, please visit our Contact Us page."

In a news release sent Friday afternoon, state Banking Commissioner Jorge Perez encouraged financial institutions to work with impacted customers.

Other offers include a free entrée with the purchase of an entrée at The Irons, 50 percent off the manufacturer's retail price at Americana Furniture and 15 percent off at Fairfield Inn & Suites. A few restaurants advise to "please contact for offer."

The chamber first put out a call for special offers on Tuesday afternoon. Chamber President Tony Sheridan said he's gotten no pushback and people were "delighted to help out."

"I think what's wonderful about this region is there's a huge affection for the work people do for the military," Sheridan said. He added that what's important about the program is not so much what the discounts are, but that the community is "reaching out to these men and women, who are serving the community in one capacity or another."

The chamber has encouraged businesses to put a note on the door and to ask for an ID.

In the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association's newsletter sent Friday, USCG Vice Commandant Charles W. Ray said that without an appropriation, continuing resolution or other legislative action, the Coast Guard will not be able to meet its next payroll. That date is Jan. 15.

The Alumni Association is partnering with the Chief Petty Officer's Association to provide gift cards to junior Coast Guard personnel for food and gas.

e.moser@theday.com

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