Throughout the government shutdown that temporarily ended Friday after 35 days, Cyndi Grafe and Lynne Hood found out just how important the contents of their freezers are.
Grafe and Hood are both employees of the Environmental Protection Agency — among the 13,700 federal workers in Idaho as of December 2018, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. Both were furloughed and missed paychecks. They were not part of the group of 420,000 federal employees deemed “essential” who were forced to still go to work without pay, according to CNBC.
With less income at their disposal, Grafe’s and Hood’s families admittedly cut back, including trips to the market.
“We’re going through everything in our freezer, and making sure that everything in our pantry and freezer, we’re using up,” said Grafe, who works in water quality.
On Thursday morning, Grafe and Hood found some solace on a hardwood floor lit by candles. They were serenaded by tranquil music and accompanied by smiling faces next to them on yoga mats.
If only for an hour, they found zen.
Shine Yoga Collective on Broadway Avenue was one of several local businesses offering free services for furloughed federal employees — in this case, free classes Thursdays and Saturdays for as long as the shutdown lasted.
Shine teamed with Flying M Coffeehouse and was giving out gift cards for free lattes.
Grafe and Hood had not seen each other in more than four weeks due to the shutdown. They met each other with wide smiles at Shine.
“I have to say, Shine Yoga offering a furloughed session is kind of uplifting and gives you a little bit more spirit … it was really nice to have this as an option,” Hood said. “It helps you feel that you’re in it together, not just the furloughed workers, but the public.”
Shine Yoga owner Susan Becker was one of many several local business owners who helped out. She has friends who were furgloughed, and the idea of offering free classes struck her. An individual class at Shine generally costs $15.
“(We) wanted to give back to the community, especially those who are caught up in the government shutdown. It’s not necessarily anything that they’ve done to create the situation that they’re in,” Becker said. “We just really wanted to show our support from a community standpoint, and also, maybe, to help them through these stressful times by doing yoga, maybe finding a community here that can help support them.”
Of the dozen people in Thursday morning’s class, three were furloughed federal employees finding a much-needed reprieve.
“It’s a great way to start my day … I’m ready to be productive,” said Hood, who does environmental review for the EPA. “It was so relaxing yet energizing … some of the short stories and words of wisdom just read so true and were just so meaningful.”
Something as simple as focusing on deep breathing and lowering heart rate can change a mindset, Becker said.
“When you can focus on the task at hand, or what you’re working on that the moment, it can help you be present and focus on the benefits of calming your body and calming your mind,” she said.
Around the nation, organizations like the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration were hit hard by furloughs. According to NPR, 13,000 EPA workers were furloughed, and 40 percent of the FDA staff was out. That meant things such as water checks came to a halt for the EPA, which, according to The Guardian, had just 794 workers at its disposal. The staff worked on emergency situations, leaving “routine activities such as checks on regulated businesses, clean-ups of toxic superfund sites and the pursuit of criminal polluters ... paused,” according to the Guardian article.
The struggles of the Transportation Security Administration were well-documented as well. TSA screeners were forced to work without pay, while many Federal Aviation Administration workers in charge of aircraft and air traffic control gear inspections were furloughed, as The Washington Post pointed out.
A furloughed flight inspector told Time that “routine, normal oversight of operations at airlines and repair shops is not being done, leaving companies to regulate themselves.”
This came to a head Friday and helped facilitate the end of the shutdown. Air traffic in the busy Northeast corridor was running dreadfully behind, with up to 2-hour delays at LaGuardia in New York, Philadelphia International Airport and Newark Liberty. At one point all flights just stopped at LaGuardia, according to The Associated Press.
“I’m not at work doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” the EPA’s Grafe said. “What is this going to do to limit or delay some of the important work that we do as far as helping people and being public servants?”
All Grafe and Hood could do was stay positive, they said, and be thankful for the services being offered by businesses.
“It’s humbling, it’s very humbling … not a lot of people really know what federal workers do, what our jobs are,” Hood said. “So to have businesses be reaching out and thinking of us is very humbling.”
Grafe shared similar sentiments.
“I plan on coming back again … Those businesses that support us, I want to support them as well,” she said.
A pet project
It wasn’t just services for furloughed workers themselves that were offered around the Treasure Valley. The Idaho Humane Society provided a month’s worth of food from its pantry to furloughed workers with pets.
About 35 percent of people who sought goods at the pantry in the last month were furloughed, IHS communications manager Kristine Schellhaas told the Statesman in an email.
“We’re honored to extend a helping hand to our friends and neighbors who have been impacted by this shutdown,” Schellhaas said. “We see their dedication to our country every day, and we’re proud to not only help our community members, but their pets as well.”
Other businesses that offered freebies
- The Boise Philharmonic was giving away two tickets to a February show to all federal workers affected by the shutdown.
- The Boise Bike Project announced its “Love Will Find a Way Initiative,” where all walk-in bike repairs for anyone (even non-furloughed government employees) were free.
- Boise State announced that it would give out two free tickets to Saturday’s men’s basketball game against Wyoming and next Wednesday’s women’s game against Colorado State with proof of a federal identification. Parking passes for the men’s game and food vouchers for both games were included as well.