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Shutdown’s lost pay, dwindling business send more people to D.C. food banks

The government shutdown has stifled business in the nation's capital. Many contractors are barely getting by without their paychecks, and unlike permanent federal workers, they will never recover the income they lose. Food banks are experiencing spiking demand, even though some visitors feel guilty about asking for help. And local shops and cafes sit empty. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first: As the partial government shutdown nears the one-month mark, many of the hundreds of thousands of federal workers in and around the nation's capital are feeling the impact.

    In Washington, D.C., alone, more than 7,500 workers and contractors have applied for unemployment benefits.

    But, as Lisa Desjardins reports, the shutdown is also putting a strain on local charities and businesses.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For 3-year-old Dejah Russell, this is fantastic. Her dad, De'von Russell, has been home to play with her day after day. That's the only bright spot for De'von, who otherwise wishes he was somewhere else.

  • De’von Russell:

    I love my job. I love the people I work with. It's like my breath of fresh air being able to get out of the house and work and make money every day.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He makes that money as a security guard here, the now-silent Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in downtown Washington.

    It closed two weeks ago as part of the government shutdown, leaving workers without jobs, and tourists like Susan Blake from Indiana without a destination.

  • Susan Blake:

    My family loves museums. We would spend days in the Smithsonian. So we will just have to make a trip back.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It is more serious for De'von, of course. He lives paycheck to paycheck and hasn't had one for a week. He's filed for unemployment.

  • De’von Russell:

    I have credit cards. I have loans. I have my phone bill, rents, car note, car insurance.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    De'von is in one of the hardest-hit groups, federal contractors. There are as many as a few million of them who work for private companies paid by the government by the job. Permanent federal workers have been guaranteed back pay by a new law, but contractors likely will never get back their lost wages. For them, it's essentially a temporary layoff.

    Do you have money for next month's rent?

  • De’von Russell:

    Right now, no. Everybody wants their money when it's due.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    About 15 miles away, across the street from the closed, snowy gates of the Smithsonian National Zoo, a local bakery is much quieter than usual.

    Owner Yael Krigman calls herself a recovering attorney. She left a big salary to start this business. And while she and her staff are at work making dozens of cake pops and bagels, empty streets from the shutdown mean an almost empty store.

  • Yael Krigman:

    When the gates are closed, people don't just come in like they should. So we have definitely noticed it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yael's nut-free bakery went from thousands of customers a day during the December holiday rush to almost no one in the weeks since the zoo closed.

  • Yael Krigman:

    The effect goes far beyond the federal government. Small businesses all around this city, and even the country, are probably feeling the effects to a certain degree.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yael says she's getting by. She feels others have it worse, and gives free sandwiches to zoo staff working without pay, and free cake pop classes to any furloughed worker. But at some point, if this continues, it's a problem.

  • Yael Krigman:

    Baked by Yael is my passion, but it's also my only source of income. And the same goes — is true for many of my employees. We have three dozen people on staff at Baked by Yael. And I want them all to stay, and I want them all to be able to pay their bills.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One of the greatest pressure points of the shutdown is here, D.C.-area food banks, like the Capital Area Food Bank. CEO Radha Muthiah:

  • Radha Muthiah:

    The magnitude of the need is something that we haven't seen before.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    During this shutdown, the food bank has seen demand jump 20 percent over last January. That's more than 600,000 extra meals. They're sorting donations for new, temporary sites they have opened for federal workers at local grocery stores, and those sites need a lot of donations.

    The food bank expected 1,200 people their first weekend, but saw twice that show up. So, this Saturday, they're planning on 4,000 federal workers needing food help.

  • Radha Muthiah:

    It's been interesting, and in some ways disheartening, actually, to hear some of the conversations that we have heard as people wait in line. I overheard someone say that they felt so guilty taking this food, even though they needed it desperately.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Both sides in the shutdown are holding firm. President Trump is demanding $5.7 billion for a border wall or barrier. Democrats are saying, no way. The two sides have not even talked seriously for a week. New polls could put more pressure on lawmakers to make a deal.

    So, who do Americans hold responsible? In a "PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released this week, 54 percent of Americans blame the president. But 31 percent blame congressional Democrats.

    Back at the bakery, Yael Krigman issues an invitation, saying, if Congress and the White House want a negotiating table, she's got one for them.

  • Yael Krigman:

    I think they should sit down. I think they should see how this is affecting their constituents, and work out a deal, and understand that there are real people being affected by this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Waiting at home, De'von Russell says he's just frustrated, especially with the president.

  • De’von Russell:

    I believe he's being selfish at this point. He's He's like my daughter right now at this point.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Who's 3.

  • De’von Russell:

    Who's 3. He wants something. He can't get it. He's throwing temper tantrums. He can't get his way, so he's making everybody else suffer.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He hasn't missed any bills yet, but his creditors aren't backing off money that is due soon.

  • De’von Russell:

    I just think that everybody needs to come together and come up with something that will be good for everyone, so everybody can just return to their everyday lives.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You just want to get back to work?

  • De’von Russell:

    I just want to get back to work. As good as it is being here with my daughter, I just want to go back to work.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He's smiling.

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