Opinion

Maine must step up to help federal workers

Last week, the federal government shutdown hit the one month mark. An estimated 800,000 federal workers all across the country are struggling as they are forced to go without their second paycheck in a row. While the state cannot do something for all of the federal workers, we can take action to support Maine federal workers who still have homes to heat, kids to feed and bills to pay.

I’ve introduced legislation that offers a simple and temporary fix to support federal workers during these uncertain times. This proposal would provide a state guarantee on no-interest loans from private banks and credit unions to federal government employees living in Maine, currently working without pay. The loans are limited to the equivalent of one month’s salary up to $5,000 per employee.
It’s essentially a state partnership with private financial institutions to help friends, family members and neighbors who are forced to go without pay through no fault of their own. These people will receive back pay once the federal government reopens but need help getting by.
Most politicians don’t know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck but I’ve been there. And I feel we have a responsibility to help out if we can. The government may have stopped running but the bills haven’t stopped coming. My hope is that these private loans will keep Mainers affected by the shutdown from getting behind on their bills.

Fortunately, our proposal has already received broad support from state officials, lawmakers and the public. Gov. Janet T. Mills endorsed the proposal and has urged the legislature to act quickly. The Maine League of Credit Unions and the Maine Bankers Association are already on board and eager to do what they can to alleviate some of this unnecessary stress. In fact, some financial institutions are already taking matters into their own hands.

Amid the federal shutdown, Mainers have stepped up to take care of each other, particularly the 1,000 Maine federal employees currently working without pay. Restaurants are offering free or reduced meals. Private citizens are leaving gift guards to grocery stores so TSA agents can put food on the table and continue to show up to work to protect our safety in the air. Maine officials and private citizens have also compiled lists of resources so federal employees know where to turn for help. And now the state is partnering with local banks and credit unions to do the same.

Despite these challenging times, it’s nice to know some things never change: Mainers look out for Mainers — it’s just what we do. Regardless of how folks feel about the shutdown, I think we can all agree that no one should be forced to work without pay.

Maine federal workers need our help. As state lawmakers, we don’t have the power to reopen the federal government and end the crisis in Washington. But we can make sure these folks have what they need to stay on top of their bills and continue to put food on the table. It’s the right thing to do and I hope my colleagues will join me in passing this emergency legislation.

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