Bremerton, CHI Franciscan offer relief during shutdown

Local institutions are responding to the longest government shutdown in U.S. History.

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history grinds through its 34th day, a number of local and regional institutions in Kitsap County have announced plans to try to blunt the impact on local feds.

The City of Bremerton issued a press release Wednesday saying it would let furloughed workers defer utility payments until after the shutdown ends. Most homeowners see bills between $200-$300 every other month for water, sewer, and stormwater service.

Mayor Greg Wheeler announced the plan, which lets families of Coast Guard service members, Social Security Administration workers at the Silverdale office and commuters to federal jobs in Seattle hang on to some of their money until their paychecks return.

“It’s the least we can do,” he said. “These are folks that keep a lot of operations going, to the benefit of all U.S. citizens.”

Furloughed workers are asked to bring a copy of their Documentation of Government Furlough and a Federal ID to the city’s utility billing offices at the Norm Dicks Government Center on 6th Street, and sign a promissory agreement to prevent delinquincy fees.

At CHI Franciscan, the area’s largest healthcare provider, it was announced Monday that furloughed federal employees will have all co-pays and deductibles waived during the federal government shutdown, which began on Dec. 22.

The offer applies to all furloughed federal workers and their families being treated at 11 hospitals and more than 200 primary care clinics in the region, including hospitals in Bremerton and Silverdale.

In a statement, CHI Franciscan CEO Ketul J. Patel said the healthcare organization doesn’t want the shutdown “to be a barrier for people and their families to access the care they need.”

Wheeler said that while the vast majority of Bremerton’s federal workers – Department of Defense employees at the Bremerton shipyard – are unaffected by the shutdown, Bremerton still is home to a number of federal employees experiencing financial hardship.

“We do have our share of workers in the city who go to Silverdale to work for the Social Security Administration, or who travel across the water to work for the IRS, or the Department of Homeland Security,” he said, estimating those families to number anywhere from 50-250.

The announcements coincide with a number of local businesses and nonprofits saying they, to, would like to support federal workers.

The Silverdale United Methodist Church gave out free food on Wednesday to furloughed workers and their families, and the Bremerton Bar and Grill offered free meals on Monday. Monica’s Waterfront Bakery and Cafe in Silverdale is also handing out free meals to those affected by the shutdown.

“Show us your government ID during this nightmare and let us feed you,” a Facebook post from Monica’s read.

The LunchBox Lab, a regional burger chain with a restaurant in Gig Harbor, offered free meals to 767 federal employees and their families on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the company reported. But their offer came with one pointed caveat: “Not valid for President of USA or Speaker of the House.”

Wheeler said he was glad to be able to do something to support local federal employees, many of whom will miss a second consecutive paycheck this week as a debate over border wall funding continues in the U.S. Congress.

“At the end of the day these are folks that are working, without pay, on our behalf,” Wheeler said.

Gabe Stutman is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. Follow him on Twitter @kitsapgabe.