As the federal government shutdown continues, many federal workers continue to work without pay. On Thursday January 17, 2019, PRP’s Gretchen Kilby decided to interview local community organizer, Beth Crane to find out what she is doing to help federal workers in the Portland area, and also what other Portland residents can do to help.
[The following interview has been slightly edited for clarification.]
Gretchen Kilby: It’s the twenty-seventh day of our federal shutdown. And with me today is a Portland area community organizer, Beth Crane. Thanks for coming in this morning, Beth. Appreciate it. You’ve been working your hardest to find a way to help some of these federal workers who’ve been furloughed or were having to work and not getting paid. Talk to me about what you’ve been trying to do.
Beth Crane: Thanks for having me, Gretchen. A few days ago last week I was listening to the radio and heard about some other communities that were putting together some ways to help these federal workers. It turns out there’s 9,500 federal workers in the state of Oregon. 3,500 in the Portland area. And those are from the TSA, who are some of the lowest-paid federal workers. [Also,] the IRS and federal workers with the Bonneville Dam project, and the V.A. and some other really important federal workers here in our local area. And I just wanted to to connect with them, and show them that I care about them and want to be a part of their experience, and to help them get through this political crisis. So I reached out to folks that I knew that were involved with supporting federal workers via unions and one of the things that I learned is that there’s a federal ethics rule that precludes federal workers from accepting gifts, even things like cash cards which is really what I had in mind. I just wanted to buy some cash cards to help these families buy groceries or gas or some way to just help them conserve their dollars and to show that we see them and care about them. And so it was just really shocking to me that these federal workers couldn’t get the support–that they couldn’t legally accept support from folks like me in the community. So I’ve been reaching out to my congressional delegation, asking them to please pursue a waiver that would allow these workers to accept the care of their family, friends, and community members to get through what is really a political crisis.
G. K.: Just so that we can be sure that people are understanding: Can they accept food? They can’t accept anything?
B.C.: Just as a rule, they can’t accept gifts. So that’s pretty broad. And this particular ethics rule is really designed so that members of Congress are not influenced by lobbyists; or folks who award contracts are not coerced by potential contractors to award contracts to them. And that’s a good thing. And that makes a lot of sense to me. But in this particular context it’s really keeping general federal workers, particularly those that are the lowest-paid from being able to accept these gifts. So I’ve been in touch with the delegation in my area asking for some federal help.
G.K.: So again, spell out real specifically for people what they can do in terms of the congressional delegation.
B.C.: Sure. So I’ve been calling them, it’s about a three minute phone call, and I say that I’m a constituent of that particular legislator. I say that I’m really concerned about these federal workers. I tell them that I appreciate that the entire Oregon delegation has been very supportive of the workers, but my specific ask is to ask for that congressperson’s or senator’s support to move the waiver out of the way, to get a waiver of this ethics rule, so that these workers can accept gifts from community members. That’s my specific ask.
G.K.: Beth, you told me before we got on air that people can reach out to you via your Facebook page.
B.C.: That’s right.
G.K.: It’s “Beth Crane,” with a C-R-A-N-E. You’ve been doing a lot. It’s wonderful that you’re taking the action and we do want to encourage anybody who’s listening: If you are trying to look for a way to support federal workers, do as Beth suggested and get ahold of your congressional lawmakers and see if we can get that waiver so that folks can accept gifts of food, or whatever way that people can help.
B.C.: So if you want to follow me on Facebook, I’ll keep that updated as I find out more. That’s a great place for people to go to find out other actions they can take. But for today that’s what I’m looking for.
G.K.: Fabulous. O.K. Well, Beth, thank you again for coming in this morning. Appreciate it. You can also reach out to your congressional delegation not just here in Oregon. So take that opportunity to help those who are doing the work, many not getting paid right now for it.