The Fredericksburg treasurer’s office has started getting calls from furloughed federal workers worried about paying a city property tax and their water, sewer and trash bills.
City Council voted 6–0 Tuesday to offer them some relief. Councilman Jason Graham, who works for a federal contractor, abstained due to a conflict of interest.
“It’s no secret that we have some residents who are government employees and are affected by not being paid,” said Councilman Billy Withers. “I hate to put a penalty on people who are not being paid.”
Council’s vote directs City Manager Tim Baroody to recommend that Brenda Wood, the city’s treasurer, and her staff give any resident whose supplemental property tax bill is due Jan. 31 until Feb. 28 to pay it without penalty or interest. These taxes are pro-rated and sent to residents who’ve recently purchased a vehicle. About 1,800 of these bills have been sent out so far this year.
“Under code, the treasurer can waive interest and penalties for a variety of reasons, like death in family or fire destroyed records or things outside person’s control,” Assistant City Manager Mark Whitley said. “This would fall into that category.”
Withers asked that the extension not be limited to furloughed federal workers since others, such as local restaurant owners, are impacted by the shutdown as well. Wood said that she’s been advising her staff to treat requests from furloughed government workers the same way they’d treat those from any resident.
The city treasurer’s office does have the authority to extend the date when the city cuts off a resident’s water, sewer and trash service for nonpayment, but is required by code to assess a penalty equal to 10 percent of the balance owed beginning the first business day after the 25th of the month, Whitley said. Changing the code would require an ordinance, and the earliest that could be brought before council for a vote would be at its Feb. 12 meeting.
City Council requested that staff draft an ordinance that would lift the penalty, but would have some sort of sunset clause tied to the end of the shutdown. Councilman Tim Duffy pointed out that furloughed federal employees are not sure when they’ll get paid once the shutdown ends.
“It makes me feel good to sit here to know when folks are in need that us as a city can do something to help the average Joe. In the city, that’s big because people have issues all the time,” said Councilman Chuck Frye Jr.
“It feels good to be sitting in the spot where the first president is from to be taking care of something that the current president is making happen,” he added. “To each his own on who you like and your political views, but us as the representatives of the city of Fredericksburg, we don’t claim Republican or Democrat and we don’t have to, but we’re coming together and that’s a beautiful thing.”
City Council isn’t the only body that is extending a hand to those impacted by the shutdown, which does not appear to be ending anytime soon. Here’s the latest list:
Rappahannock United Way says that its ALICE Emergency Assistance Fund could be a resource for those affected by the government shutdown, not just federal workers. The fund provides financial assistance to cover the cost of basic needs of housing and transportation (if required for employment) for households by providing one-time assistance to eligible applicants. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed; and the fund is for those who earn above the federal poverty level, but not enough to afford a basic household budget. To get help or make a donation, visit rappahannockunitedway.org or call the organization at 540/373-0041.
Lidl will be offering $10 off an eligible purchase of $40 or more on Saturday, Jan. 26, and Sunday, Jan. 27, for those employees impacted by the shutdown. They must show a valid federal government employee ID at checkout to get this discount.
Federal employees will get free admission with a valid ID to the Virginia Home Show Presented by Trane, which will be held this weekend at the Farm Bureau Center at Meadow Event Park in Doswell. The show will include more than 150 home improvement experts, a Backyard Bar, The Marketplace, free admission on Hero Day, and a “shutdown special” for federal employees.
- Strangeways Brewing, which has a location at 350 Lansdowne Road in Fredericksburg, will offer a Saturday Shutdown promotion until the federal government reopens. Those who’ve been furloughed can present a valid government ID on Saturdays to get get 32-ounce fills for a penny and 62-ounce fills for two cents. Customers are welcome to buy grunt/growler containers on-site or bring their previously owned container. It does not have to be a Strangeways container.
- Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond is offering free admission for furloughed government workers and their families. They would only need to show their federal government ID.
- Michael & Son is offering furloughed federal employees up to 6 months of no payments on plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling repairs. “Our call center and financing department has been flooded with calls from area federal employees these last couple of weeks. We have customers who have been recently furloughed that can’t keep up with payments on their projects and have families to take care of. We’re telling them take care of your family first. We’ll worry about everything else after the shutdown. In the meantime, we also don’t want area residents neglecting the safety and comfort of their home’s so we came up with an offer that allows them to not have to make a payment up to 6 months for any of their service needs” said Basim Mansour, proud son and owner of Michael & Son.
- Aquia Harbour has created a food pantry at 1417 Washington Dr. that is just for residents of that Stafford County community. It will host a potluck from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 28.
- Navy Federal Credit Union is offering loans to federal government employees and active duty service members of the Coast Guard whose pay is affected by the shutdown and have set up direct deposit of their pay. Loan amounts are calculated based on the amount of the most recent direct deposit of pay made prior to the interruption of pay. Loans have a 0 percent APR and are available up to a maximum loan amount of $6,000. Once direct deposit of pay resumes, the amount credited to account(s) will be automatically deducted as repayment.
- The Free Lance–Star will defer subscription charges of government employees and contractors directly affected by the shutdown until the furlough is over and pay has been restored. Current subscribers who needs assistance should call the newspaper’s service center at 540/374-5002.
- Fredericksburg City Schools is offering furloughed federal employees free lunch at all schools with their federal identification. Any furloughed federal employee interested in working as a substitute teacher is also invited to contact Allison Erickson at 540/372-1130.
- Due to the shutdown, Virginia Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients received their benefits about two weeks early. “These are your February benefits, not extra benefits,” according to a message from the Fredericksburg Food Access Forum. “Plan and budget carefully so your food benefits last until the March benefit payment. Please visit DSS.Virginia.gov, call 855/635-4370 or contact your caseworker with questions.” It warned that the status of future benefits is unknown at this time, and organizations that interface with SNAP clients, including hospitals, health care providers, schools, grocery stores, farmers markets, emergency food pantries and churches should be aware of probable food insecurity impacts.
- Weis Markets has accelerated store shipments of high-demand items purchased by customers who use SNAP benefits. “As a result of the shutdown, customers who use SNAP to purchase their groceries will receive their February benefits this week—essentially two to three weeks ahead of schedule,” said Kurt Schertle, Weis Markets’ Chief Operating Officer. “To meet this early demand, we have moved up our delivery schedules to ensure that we are in stock for our customers. We are doubly prepared for this increase in demand due to predictions of snow in many of our markets.”
- Dominion Energy customers facing hardship during the government shutdown can call 866/366-4357 to explore payment and energy assistance options.
- Rappahannock Electric Cooperative will work with members to address their circumstances, and offers them a variety of tools. These include checking their MyREC SmartHub account to see if they qualify for a payment extension. They can also call 800/552-3904 to speak to a member services representative or email the cooperative at mail us at email@example.com.
- Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative will not impose late fees and electric disconnections will be deferred during the duration of the shutdown for eligible federal employees who are directly affected. Customers can contact NOVEC customer service at 703/335-0500 or toll-free 888/335-0500, Monday–Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Atlantic Broadband is offering flexible payment options for government employee customers affected by the partial governmental shutdown. These include payment extensions and the adjustment of late fees to keep affected customers connected during the shutdown. “Our customer care teams will work with these customers to find a payment solution that works, as we always strive to do when our customers are in critical need,” said Courtney Long, vice president of customer care for Atlantic Broadband.
- Break It Fredericksburg, a “rage room” at 4705 Plank Road, Suite 207, is offering a free, 5-minute session to furloughed government workers looking to find an outlet for their frustrations. The business offers a safe and controlled environment where participants can let loose and destroy stuff. A 5-minute session includes 10 breakables, six small and four medium-sized items. “Typically people come to let loose, but lately I’ve seen many come just to cope,” said owner said Monica May, owner of Break It Fredericksburg. “The local area is heavily populated with government workers, many who are furloughed, as things are getting harder to manage for families dealing with no income, I wanted to provide a way for them to let out their frustrations at no cost.” To book a session at Break It, visit breakit-fxbg.com or call 540/388-4844.
- Airbnb has launched “A Night On Us,” a new program to support federal executive branch employees nationwide who share their home on Airbnb or provide an Airbnb Experience during the ongoing federal government shutdown. It will give $110 extra to any federal executive branch employee in Virginia who hosts either an experience or three nights in their home between now and March 18.