PLATTSBURGH — Penny Cowan was on the road Friday, in the midst of a blinding snowstorm, when she got the word via text message.
The federal shutdown was ending.
"It is great news," she said Friday night, once she was safe and sound again at her home in Schuyler Falls.
"I hope it will be over for good."
It was with such tentative joy that Cowan and other federal workers took in the news that President Donald Trump had agreed to a deal to suspend the 30-day stalemate that affected hundreds of thousands around the nation.
Cowan has worked for 12 years as a collection officer for the federal Internal Revenue Service at the Plattsburgh office.
The shutdown left her without a paycheck for more than a month.
"It's ironic because as a collection officer, we are the ones who bring the revenue in, and we are not working," she said earlier this week.
"For me, it's not that bad because I am by myself, but if I had small children it would be tough.
"Not everyone can handle this."
HATS AND BREAD
The hardship delivered by the shutdown has been recognized locally by banks and other businesses, by schoolchildren and government entities.
And efforts to aid government workers continued right up until the temporary agreement to re-open the government was reached Friday afternoon.
Students at Stafford Middle School raised $640 to help Customs and Immigration workers at the Champlain border by paying $1 each to wear a hat to school Friday, which is normally forbidden.
And students and faculty who did not wear hats pitched in anyhow.
"We have really great students and staff here at Stafford Middle School," Stafford Middle School Principal Jamie LaBarge said.
Freihofer's Bakery Outlet, on South Peru Street in the City of Plattsburgh, had been giving federal employees a free loaf of bread per day during the shutdown.
Manager Dawn Langlois said about 12 to 15 people had been coming in each day to grab a loaf, and Friday was no different.
Many of them were Transportation Security Agency workers, Langlois said.
"People are struggling with this, and bread is a staple for many of them so we are glad to help them if we can," she said.
The Butcher Block Restaurant in Plattsburgh on Friday invited affected workers to come in for soup and bread at no charge.
Likewise, University of Vermont Health Network, Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone provided free meals to federal employees in need.
Numerous local banks and credit unions stepped up, offering such assistance as zero-interest loans, deferrals on payments and lines of credit.
Many of the programs extend at least 30 days post-shutdown.
"We're just trying to find some ways to help people because it is unfortunate that these folks are stuck in the cross-hairs," Dannemora Federal Credit Union President and CEO Chris Hay said before the shutdown ended.
About 30 people had asked for loan deferrals, he said, and 24 sought loans to help them pay bills.
They needed money for services like daycare that don't accept credit cards, Hay said.
Seacomm Federal Credit Union is also helping its members affected by the shutdown.
Vice President of Marketing and Communications Tammy Harrigan said several people had been inquiring about loans and other options.
"A lot of people have been able to handle it so far, but we're getting more calls from people who are concerned about the future," Harrigan said before word came of the reopening deal.
RIGHT THING TO DO
Champlain National Bank, the last-remaining local bank, was also providing assistance in the form of loan deferments.
"If the community does not do well, we do not do well so we want to make sure that we can help our clients and our community," Jacqueline Hallock, vice president/director of marketing, said.
"And because it is the right thing to do."
Adirondack Bank, Dannemora Federal Credit Union, Northern Federal Credit Union, North Franklin Federal Credit Union, Peru Federal Credit Union and Ticonderoga Federal Credit Union, among others, introduced programs as well.
Members at UFirst Federal Credit Union could skip up to three payments on loans without being assessed a fee and take out a special assistance loan with a low rate and first payment deferred up to 90 days.
"As mission-driven and member-owned financial institutions, it’s our duty to do all that we reasonably can to help you through this period of uncertainty," wrote Jody Carpenter, president of the Adirondack Chapter of the New York Credit Union Association and UFirst vice president of marketing and business development, in a Letter to the Editor assuring those affected that local credit unions would stand by them.
POSTPONED TUITION PAYMENTS
The state also offered assistance.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed SUNY and CUNY to assist students with college-related expenses during the shutdown.
Payments for tuition and related college expenses were to be postponed, and no late fees or penalties charged to impacted students.
The temporary reprieve applied to federal employees, dependents of federal employees, and students who are dependent on loans from the federal government that may be delayed.
The Village of Rouses Point suspended late charges on village utility bills for all furloughed federal employees, with the waiver in effect until one month after the government shutdown ends.
Cowan, who was furloughed rather than required to work without pay, said that time off was no vacation.
It was worrisome.
"I was really afraid it was going to continue for an undetermined amount of time," she said.
"This was bad enough; this was long enough."
She said the manner in which the shutdown occurred left a bad impression.
"I don't know if we really need a southern border wall or not, but I do know that we don't need a shutdown," she said.
"And for the president to say that he is willing to keep the government shut down for months, even years, is horrifying.
"I think it was awful we even had a shutdown. I think it was awful that they didn't negotiate."
Cowan believes she will be paid for the time she spent on furlough.
"I'm not sure when, but hopefully soon."
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