These last couple weeks, Tamujin Eberhardt has felt as if she’s being held hostage by politics. The 44-year-old single mother of three hasn’t been to her job as a customer service representative with the Internal Revenue Service in a month as the longest government shutdown in history drags on, and her bills are starting to pile up.
There’s the car insurance bill, even though her check-engine light came on weeks ago and she doesn’t have the cash to get whatever is wrong fixed. There are the federal Parent PLUS student loan bills for her daughter, Autumn, 19, a student at Arcadia University. And there’s the rent.
On Sunday, Eberhardt, who lives in the Wissinoming section of the city, got her first glimmer of hope: a $1,250 no-interest loan from the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia, a nonprofit group that’s giving out short-term loans to federal workers affected by the shutdown after an anonymous donor put up $500,000 to cover the costs.
“I’m concerned, and I’m taking it one day at a time,” said Eberhardt, who added that she’d be using the loan to help cover not only her bills, but fees that accrued from withdrawing from an empty bank account. “This is a little bit more relief, and I thank [the donor] immensely.”
Volunteers with the society handed out the interest-free checks Friday and Sunday at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to dozens of federal workers who just had to prove they weren’t being paid as a result of the government shutdown, live in the region, and make $65,000 or less a year. (The limit was originally $50,000 but was raised late Sunday with the donor’s approval, said Marshal Granor, immediate past president of HFLS.)
As of the end of the day, nearly 100 loans had been issued, he said. Distribution of checks is to resume Monday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Constitution Center, 525 Arch St. Eligibility requirements and application forms can be found on the HFLS website at www.hflphilly.org.
Granor said they don’t anticipate that workers won’t make good on the agreement to pay back the loan within 90 days of receiving their first paycheck.
Some of the 800,000 federal workers who haven’t been paid for weeks aren’t counting on paychecks resuming anytime soon as negotiations between President Donald Trump and members of Congress have stalled and the partial government shutdown reached its 29th day Sunday.
On Saturday, Trump offered Democrats a deal to end the shutdown. Among the highlights: three-year protection from deportation for some immigrants, including “Dreamers," in exchange for $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the Senate would take up the measure this week, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) called the proposal “a nonstarter.”
Given the potential length of the government shutdown, an interest-free check couldn’t have come at a better time for Jina Holland, a 32-year-old IRS worker who lives in the city’s Mayfair section. Holland said she’s already depleted the savings she had and has taken out several other loans. The Hebrew loan she received Sunday will help her pay February’s rent -- at least, she said, she can guarantee a roof over her head.
“With this gesture,” she said, “it shows that there are still good people out there who care about us.”
The Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia was founded in 1984 to dispense loans to Jews in need of help making ends meet, though the relief program for federal workers is nonsectarian. The donor who put up the funds for it wishes to remain anonymous.
“We feel terribly upset that good, hardworking people didn’t have the money to pay their bills,” said Bernard Granor, 90, Marshal’s father and an HFLS founder. “It’s unprecedented.”
Said board president Amy Krulik: “We feel frustrated on behalf of the people who didn’t create this situation but are stuck in it.”
Frustration has been a constant for Kavonda Adams, an IRS customer service rep and 38-year-old mother of two who lives in the city’s Wynnefield section.
Every morning, she nervously scours the news, only to be disappointed that, no, she won’t be getting a paycheck as the shutdown continues. A supervisor asked her to come back to work unpaid, but Adams can’t afford the gas, child care and other costs associated with just going into the office.
“As much as we would like to go back to work and serve the people of America,” she said, “it’s difficult when you’re not in a position to pay your bills.”
She said she’s going to use her short-term loan to pay the rent. Same for her friend Tiffany White, who also works in customer service at the IRS. White, of Folsom, said she gets that it’s a busy time for the agency, but she just can’t afford to come back to work without being paid.
“We understand,” she said, “but our rent is still due.”