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Alaska News

Banks, credit unions in Alaska offer help to federal workers during shutdown

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: January 8, 2019
  • Published January 8, 2019

Some banks and credit unions in Alaska are allowing customers who are federal workers a bit of flexibility with loans and payments as those employees deal with the fallout of the partial government shutdown.

Some federal workers have been furloughed and others are working without pay, and now they’re searching for ways to juggle bills in between paychecks.

At Denali Federal Credit Union, customers affected by the shutdown have called to figure out how to handle upcoming payments.

“They’re questioning, ‘What happens if I don’t receive a paycheck in the near future, what are my options?’” said Amy Tullos, vice president of operations at the credit union. “I think they’re more just kind of in the research phase.”

The shutdown — now in its third week — is the result of a stalemate in Washington, D.C., between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats, hinging on Trump’s insistence for funds for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Alaska has one of the highest percentages of federal employees making up its workforce, compared to elsewhere in the country. It comes in fourth after Washington, D.C., Maryland and Hawaii, said state economist Neal Fried.

During this shutdown, 49 percent of federal employment in Alaska is at agencies without appropriations, according to the website Governing.

Many financial institutions are working on a case-by-case basis to help federal workers who might be grappling with the shutdown.

Last week, Denali approved what it calls an emergency response loan procedure in light of the shutdown. That allows the credit union to offer services like loan payment deferrals, lower loan rates and reduced payments, depending on the client.

Dave Snider is one federal employee who’s been going to work but not expecting to get his next paycheck, which would have been due Monday. A meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Anchorage, he’s tried to be proactive by making calls to Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, telecom company GCI and his mortgage lender, Quicken Loans.

“It’s a lot harder to dig out of a hole than work ahead and let people know you’re concerned, and see what solutions are available before you run into a problem,” he said.

GCI is working on a case-by-case basis with customers on bills they have coming up. Federal workers affected by the shutdown can call 907-265-5400 or visit a store to set up a payment plan “to defer portions of their payments until after the situation is resolved,” spokeswoman Heather Handyside said in an email.

During the shutdown, Wells Fargo “will automatically reverse monthly service and overdraft/non-sufficient fund fees” for customers who are employees of affected agencies and whose payroll checks were direct deposited into their account in November, spokesman David Kennedy said in an email.

The bank can also work with customers who don’t have direct deposit, and with those who are having a hard time making loan payments, he said. Customers can call 1-800-TO-WELLS.

Northrim Bank spokeswoman Katie Bender said the bank encourages federal employees who are having potential problems to connect with a local banker to discuss their options.

“Unfortunately, there’s not one Band-Aid for everyone,” she said.

Starting last week, there was an uptick in federal workers in Alaska filing unemployment insurance claims, and this week “we’re seeing a pretty significant hike,” said Patsy Westcott. She’s the director of the division of employment and training services within the state labor department.

“What we’re seeing right now is directly related to the shutdown," she said. By the end of this week, “we’re going to have hundreds” of such claims in the works.

Workers looking for information on unemployment can visit the division’s website. Westcott cautioned that in the event of a shutdown, workers who collect unemployment usually need to pay it back once they start getting paychecks from work that include retroactive pay.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in an emailed statement Tuesday that it’s possible to provide security at the border while also keeping the government functioning.

“I continue to stress that there is no good reason for a shutdown," she said in the statement, which was emailed by a spokeswoman. “The reality is thousands of furloughed federal employees and contractors have no paycheck in sight, small businesses and local economies that rely on them are suffering, and there is no reason they should be held hostage to a political dispute.”

Alaska USA Federal Credit Union has a note on its website directing federal employees “experiencing financial uncertainty” to call them or visit a local branch.

“Whatever the type of payment it is, or if they’re running tight on cash … we’ll talk to them about their options,” said Dan McCue, Alaska USA senior vice president of corporate relations.

During shorter shutdowns in the past, workers typically haven’t filed an unemployment insurance claim, said Westcott. There’s some “nervousness” now among employees because of how long this one has lasted, leading them to file, she said.