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Brownsville leaders rally to support local federal workers amid shutdown

January 25, 2019

Brownsville leaders are teaming up to help federal employees who have been impacted by the partial government shutdown by coordinating meals and pooling information about other types of aid. About 800,000 federal workers will miss a second paycheck Friday.

Bryant Walker, director of the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport, said the airport is working with the City of Brownsville and Brownsville Chamber of Commerce to help local Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

Brownsville administrators have partnered with Noble Texas Builders, North Brownsville Rotary Club and other local businesses to host a barbecue chicken plate giveaway 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Brownsville Event Center. The “Serving Our Heroes” event is open to all federal employees affected by the shutdown and will provide two plates to those who present a valid government ID.

A larger airport like Chicago O’Hare might be able to do a TSA appreciation day meal but not much more due to the sheer number of the federal employees working there.

“As a smaller group, it felt like it was more a community effort,” Walker said. “We work with these people every day, and they live here locally in our community.”

The Brownsville airport offers breakfast and lunch each day to TSA and CBP agents who help keep the facility running. There are two local companies — Jason’s Deli and Spawglass — that have joined in by covering meals, but Walker would like to get 10 to 12 businesses in rotation to spread out the cost.

The meals for agents over two shifts add up to about $60 per day, he said, and the airport considers it operational costs.

“Running an airport, we’re trying to get them covered. If everybody pitched in, it’d be no big deal,” Walker said.

Esmy Villarreal, president and CEO of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, said her organization is reaching out to its more than 500 members to compile a list of businesses that are helping federal workers. Banks are offering credit lines or waiving fees for people impacted by the partial government shutdown, she said, and restaurants have offered free meals.

“The most important conversation with members right now is, how can we help those going through difficult times?” she said. “The chamber recognizes the hardship the partial government shutdown has brought on our federal employees, nationally and locally. Everyone is taking a (time) to be supportive, and that at the end of the day matters most.”

Villarreal added that the chamber is active on its social media outlets and will disseminate information about federal employee assistance there as well as through its members.

Walker noted that the Brownsville airport hasn’t experienced the absences faced by others. The TSA reported that call-outs were 7.2 percent of its workforce compared to 3.3 percent at the same time last year. He said the Brownsville airport has only had one unscheduled absence.

A regional TSA spokesperson was not available for comment due to the shutdown.

“It’s not because they don’t want to come in. It’s because they can’t afford to,” he said. “(Donations) address their immediate needs and make sure they know they have our support.”

Walker said even as airport employees have daily duties and construction of the new passenger terminal to manage, they are brainstorming other ways to help federal workers with meals. They may host a weekend potluck, he said, and one employee has been approaching department stores and a grocery chain about donating $20 gift cards for gas or other expenses.

Federal employees are limited to accepting gifts valued at $20 or less, and all donations are being documented to make sure they follow that policy, he added.

Those interested in providing meals or donating gift cards to federal workers at the Brownsville airport can email flybrownsville@cob.us . Brownsville Chamber of Commerce members who want to get involved can reach out to info@brownsvillechamber.com .

Find more information about “Serving Our Heroes” in the events section of facebook.com/NobleTexasBuilders.

nadia@brownsvilleherald.com

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