Diocese opens aid programs to unpaid federal workers

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PROVIDENCE — Within an hour of the diocese’s announcement last Thursday that it would begin offering assistance to federal workers impacted by the government shutdown, the phone in Jim Jahnz’s office on the first floor of the chancery began to ring.

The diocese last week opened up its outreach programs to government workers who are not being paid — even though many are still required to report to work — as President Trump and the Congress continue to disagree over issues of funding for security at the nation’s southern border, extending the shutdown into its second month.

“We started receiving requests almost immediately,” said Jahnz, the diocesan emergency services coordinator.

With appropriate documentation, the impacted federal workers can avail themselves of diocesan programs such as “Keep the Heat On,” which provides heating assistance to those most in need, or receive gas cards, supermarket gift cards, prescription drug assistance and diapers and baby food through the St. Gabriel’s Call program.

“The requests that we received were for food cards and for transportation assistance. They’re not being paid, but they still need to be able to get back and forth to work,” Jahnz said.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin directed the diocesan ministries to provide emergency assistance to help meet the additional need created in many households across Rhode Island by the shutdown.

“It is my hope that by offering this special assistance to the affected individuals and families through our ministries, we can somehow provide some assistance,” said Bishop Tobin.

“It is very unfortunate that the government shutdown has lasted this long. I urge both sides of the impasse to come together to reach an agreement which will end the hardship felt by so many.”

Jahnz said that people across the diocese have been very supportive of initiatives such as “Keep the Heat On,” and he expects the increased demand for services will not affect the ability of existing programs to provide assistance to whomever needs it.

“At this time of year, and especially now that the cold snap has hit, the “Keep the Heat On” program has been up and running and is busy,” he said.

Jahnz said that his office will continually monitor its phone lines after hours and on weekends to ensure that people in dire circumstances will have access to diocesan help.

“The bishop is certainly aware that the federal workers have gone through a great deal of hardship, a great deal of anxiety, and he certainly wanted to do what he could in order to alleviate that anxiety.”

To apply for assistance, call 421-7833, ext. 207.