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City looking at options to help unpaid federal workers

January 24, 2019
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Norton

While Rochester city government isn’t reporting much direct impact from the federal shutdown more than a month since it began, the city is looking for ways to help those who are affected.

Mayor Kim Norton and City Council President Randy Staver are starting discussions about ways to help furloughed and unpaid federal workers.

Norton said she knows the uncertainty those workers face while missing paychecks amid a government shutdown.

“I’ve been through this,” she said. “I know how difficult it is for many families living paycheck to paycheck.”

Nearly five years after Norton and her former husband, Steve, came to Rochester for a job at the Federal Medical Center, the nation’s second-longest shutdown started.

For 21 days starting Dec. 16, 1995, Steve went without a paycheck as he continued reporting to work at the prison. Meanwhile, Kim was earning what she could for the family with four young children.

She said it didn’t take long for worry to set in, and today she still is unsure what would have happened if anonymous gifts hadn’t come their way. Gift cards, as well as a cashier’s check to help cover a car payment, were delivered without names attached.

“It meant the world to us and helped us through a real difficult time, until we could get back on our feet when the paychecks started coming,” she said.

With that in mind, she’s asked the Rochester City Council to consider what the city can do for the hundreds of prison employees, as well as Transportation Security Administration workers and FBI staff, that are without paychecks.

The larger conversation starts with today’s committee of the whole meeting, Staver said.

After discussing options with Norton, Staver said he was told the Minnesota Cold Rule will protect people from having power turned off by Rochester Public Utilities, and no fees will be charged for late payments.

Staver and Norton also discussed options for providing bus passes for people who may be trying to conserve gas during the shutdown as a way to make ends meet.

Additionally, Staver said, he’s looking for input from City Attorney Jason Loos on a suggestion by Norton to see if short-term loans would be an option for workers who will be receiving back pay once the shutdown is over.

Staver said he’s unsure whether that would be allowed with tax dollars, but wants to make sure all options are considered.

“In many cases, these are our friends, neighbors and colleagues,” he said of families affected by the lack of paychecks.

While looking at what the city can do, Norton and Staver said they are also encouraging businesses and certain agencies to consider how they can help, whether through loans or by offering other help.

Already, some businesses and individuals have stepped up to make sure federal employees have food and other needed supplies to make it through the shutdown.

Norton said she knows it’s needed to provide security for families.

“I remember that feeling, and I know these people are further along than I was, and there has to be some of them getting rather nervous,” she said.

Staver said he’s confident city efforts will help, but also expects others will continue to follow suit.

“Our community has a tradition of stepping up,” he said.

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