On Tuesday, the U.S. government was forced into shutdown, leaving most Federal workers who live in Alaska with an abundance of free time and no government programs to tout, forced into furlough and yanked off the taxpayer's teat. Some Alaskans may now be overjoyed that there are no armed environmental task forces breathing down their necks, or dangerous boating safety enforcement checks. But now is not the time to gloat.
Alaskans are known for setting aside differences and banding together in times of need. For those Alaskans employed by the U.S. government but considered "non-essential" employees, hard times have fallen and no one knows how long they'll last. A crisis is a crisis no matter how avoidable or unnecessary, and luckily for Alaska's 16,000 federal civililian workers, the U.S. Congress and its army of aides are on the case, working toward a solution to the problem they alone created.
So give a Fed a break: Pat one on the back. Help out with some yardwork that they're no longer putting off. Feds with unexpected days off will likely start catching up on home projects and long put-off daytrips, but Alaskans can step up, too:
1. Solicit small loans from Don Young: There's a lot of uncertainty, but at least one constant associated with the government shutdown: The 532 members of Congress will continue to get checks in the mail. The Associated Press reports the payments will cost about $10,500 an hour to taxpayers. If you haven't written a letter to Alaska's Congressman Don Young in a long time, or ever, now's your chance. He's raking it in, and your fellow Alaskans are struggling. Turn that frustration into heated prose, place it in an envelope, slap on a stamp and send it to 2314 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington D.C., 20515.
And don't take no for an answer. House members and senators can't withhold their own pay, even if they wanted to. Under the U.S. Constitution's 27th Amendment, lawmakers can only change the pay of future members of Congress, not current ones, the AP reported. Senators and House members are paid $174,000 a year; a handful of them make up to $20,000 more. Young is likely a part of that higher echelon. He's working through his 21st term as Alaska's lone congressman, after all.
2. Take a Fed to lunch: There's no need for furloughed Feds to bust out the oatmeal and canned beans just yet, if they can get by with a little help from their friends: Take a Fed to lunch. If the furlough lasts a week, help him or her make a meal concocted out of whatever odds and ends are lying around their house - a money saver and creative outlet, should days off get dull. Who knew pinto bean fudge could taste so good? If the furlough lasts a few weeks, take a Fed dumpster diving.
3. Grab a stick: Poke a federal employee in the eye with a stick. There's no better way to remind someone to be thankful of what they already have -- a cushy job, good healthcare, a bureaucratic chain of command to deflect any blame -- than to literally show them that getting furloughed beats a stick in the eye. Any size stick will do, but it's the element of surprise that counts: Try to catch them snoozing on the couch in their sweatpants while their nerd goggles are off.
4. Help a Fed apply for unemployment: Feds on furlough because of the government shutdown may immediately apply for unemployment benefits. If they don't have the money to pay their Internet bill, invite the out-of-work Fed into your home. It's likely they will need help shuffling through paperwork before they come over. The Alaska Department of Labor warned that because federal payroll offices may themselves be closed, they hopefully kept proof of their earnings for 2012 and 2013 to make an eligible claim. An influx of application may ruin the state's stellar job reputation, however. Alaska continues to be a good place to find a job.
5. Beware of red tape: With the federal government out of action, a great deal of red tape is in danger of going unused, and thousands of federal workers who have the expertise to operate it are idle. Luckily, red tape has no expiration date, unlike ammunition or explosives, so there's no chance the government's red tape stockpile will go bad during the shutdown. But the feds who operate the red tape machine will be itching to wrap something up so tight it can't move. If you notice a furloughed federal employee eyeing any household or yard projects around the neighborhood, place a decoy lawnmower or wheelbarrow out and let the hold-ups begin. To maximize the pacifying effect for your fed, make sure to include a gold-plated shovel or two, as if a public groundbreaking ceremony has been held. Just be sure to stay clear of the red tape as its being applied. Only professionals should go near the stuff.
6. Take a Fed to Kaladi Brothers Coffee: Do your federal friends look beat? If they appear to need a boost of energy, lasso them into the Subaru Forester and take a drive to Kaladi's. The Feds may not have the money to pay for coffees, but make sure they bring their wallets. At any Kaladi Brothers location in Alaska and Seattle, baristas are serving up Red Goat brew and refills for free to people with valid federal job IDs. The popular coffee chain has vowed to keep the offer in place for the entire duration of the government shutdown. Plus, there's free WiFi at most locations.
7. Make some space, feed a fed: With some federal food programs like WIC not giving out payments thanks to the shutdown, why not help a fed out by clearing out your freezer? Trying to cram your record-breaking bounty of July-caught Kenai sockeyes in between last year's remaining vacuum-sealed Chitina red filets? I'm sure a hungry federal employee would be happy to take the not-quite-freezer-burned fish off your hands. Gearing up to get your annual moose hunt? Have some leftover caribou? Baby, get yourself a stew going. Bonus points if you have extra marine mammal meat you can part with -- unlike the former animals, marine mammals are managed exclusively through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
8. Make a donation: Okay, so maybe this won't actually help your favorite federal employee directly, but why not help out an agency in need? Perhaps a contribution to the National Park Service is in order? Alaskans certainly love their parks, from Denali in the Interior to Glacier Bay in Southeast to the far-flung Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in the north. Unfortunately, the National Park Service donation page at the website is itself a victim of the shutdown, with a stock message noting that a lack of funding has temporarily killed the page. Once it's back up, why not make a donation? Maybe it will keep your favorite national park or monument open for one more day during the next shutdown.
9. Let a Fed watch your pets: Let a fed care for your pets while you are at work. Studies have shown that quality time spent with a pet can reduce tension and improve mood. "Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression," Dr. Ian Cook, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA told WebMD. And being unemployed, even if only temporarily, can be depressing. And if you're watching MSNBC's second-by-second coverage of how the world is doomed by the shutdown, the depression could be almost disabling.
10. Take a Fed to Work Day: Forget children, bring your Fed friends to hang out at your job. Depending on the friend, he or she may or may not be more disruptive than your kids -- so lay down some ground rules: No crying during meetings; no drawing on the walls; and no prank calls from the office line (well, maybe just one.) See below for an idea how your federal friends can spend their day at your work.
11. Make a Fed do (your) extra paperwork: The federal government is well-known for its bureaucratic rules, and that means paperwork, paperwork, paperwork -- preferably in triplicate. The burden of filing, copying, collating and rubber-stamping is so great for many federal workers, that as the shutdown lengthens, many of them may start to show signs of paperwork withdrawal. The most noticeable symptom victims describe feeling is terror at the notion that each and every action in their days is essential, without even a hint of of busywork or redundancy. To help ease the withdrawals, give your favorite Fed a stack of civilian paperwork -- the more mundane the better, and the taller the better. Applications for health insurance or small business loans, or for income tax or student loan deferments are probably best, but even crossing off items in a grocery list will be welcome to desperate Feds in the grips of withdrawal. Remember: Civilian paperwork is a poor substitute for full-on, uncut government-grade forms and records, so substituting will only be effective for so long.