It’s no question that the partial government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s proposed $5.7 billion border wall, which became the longest in American history on Saturday at 22 days, is hurting thousands of Philadelphians.

Even though many prominent cultural institutions and a handful of restaurants have stepped up to offer discounts and deals during the shutdown in hopes of helping out families, federal employees are stressed about the shutdown appearing to have no end in sight.

More than 45,000 of the 800,000 federal employees in the country live in the Philadelphia region.

Marcine Washington, a federal employee who visited the Franklin Institute for free on Saturday with her son Reggie and 5-year-old granddaughter, said that “things that are supposed to get paid aren’t getting paid this month.”

“This is the first paycheck that’s been skipped,” she said, declining to say where she works out of fear of jeopardizing her job. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”

The Franklin Institute is waiving admission fees for federal workers this weekend. Other Philadelphia museums, including the Art Museum and the Academy of Natural Sciences, are offering federal employees free admission through the end of the shutdown. Some restaurants, like Pineville Fishtown and Nick’s Bar & Grille, have served up food deals.

A government worker who did not want her face shown enjoys a free visit to the Franklin Institute Saturday, where stress was high among federal employees who are going without pay.
Margo Reed
A government worker who did not want her face shown enjoys a free visit to the Franklin Institute Saturday, where stress was high among federal employees who are going without pay.

“We chose to open our doors this weekend at no charge to federal employees and their families as a small way to offer some respite during this uncertain and difficult time,” said Larry Dubinski, president and CEO of the Franklin Institute.

But despite the freebies, the mood was somber.

A federal employee who declined to be named because her bosses said she was not allowed to speak publicly about the shutdown, brought her two daughters, ages 13 and 16, to the Franklin Institute with her mother. She saw a list of places offering free admission for furloughed employees and chose to visit the Franklin Institute because she hadn’t been there since 1995.

What should have been a lighthearted family outing filled with excitement over exhibits about Vikings -- the invaders from Scandinavia, not the football team from Minnesota -- and the brain was weighed down by money worries. The Philadelphia mother hasn’t been paid since the second week of December.

“This situation is beyond ridiculous,” the woman said. “It’s very frustrating. No one in Washington wants to talk or negotiate, but it’s really hard for us.”

She said she’s seen bakeries and restaurants in the area setting aside food for government employees. “It’s unfair that they have to bear the weight of this,” she said.

Spirits were just as glum at the Art Museum.

There, an Internal Revenue Service employee who did not want to be identified because she is not authorized to comment on the shutdown, complained of boredom over not working -- and not having resources to address it.

“There’s no money to do anything,” she said. “At least my fiancé works in the private sector, so we still have a source of income. But things are harder for my coworkers who are also married to federal workers.”

With her own wedding just months away in May, the woman said the government shutdown is putting a financial squeeze on celebration plans. She has gotten paid for work performed in December but has not been compensated for work since then, she said.

Philip Abruzzese, whose father owns the Pineville Tavern in Bucks County, said the restaurant has seen a number of people come in for free fried chicken dinners -- also offered at their Fishtown location.

“One man who has worked for the Department of Homeland Security for 30 years came here this morning,” Abruzzese said Saturday. “But he didn’t tell us that he was a federal employee until after he paid his check. When I asked him why, he said that he wanted to offer his business to us. During this time, it doesn’t matter what your political stance is: We all have to acknowledge that it’s a difficult situation.”

Today, we had the unique pleasure of hosting a couple, the husband of which was a long time government employee and...

Posted by The Pineville Tavern on Saturday, January 12, 2019

Despite the stress, some furloughed employees said they were looking at this involuntary time off as a chance for more family time.

Tanisha Stevenson, of Philadelphia, brought her family to the Franklin Institute after seeing a colleague at an agency she did not want to identify post about the free admission deal on Facebook. While her children, ages 2, 7, and 11, fidgeted impatiently, eager to get to the exhibits, she answered a reporter’s questions about not getting paid, trying to look at the situation positively.

“It’s been hard,” she said. “But we don’t want to see a wall up. And that’s just what we have to deal with. If there’s anything we can do in the meantime as a family, though, we’re going to take advantage of it.”