MassLive: US Rep. Joe Kennedy serves up meals to furloughed federal workers, calls for reopening government
By Shannon Young – 1/23/19
With thousands of federal employees still furloughed or working without pay due to the government shutdown, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III joined dozens of volunteers Wednesday in serving up lunches to those impacted by the 33-day funding lapse, as part of Chef Jose Andres' “Chefs for Feds” effort.
The Newton Democrat, who has long admired Andres' work to help feed people following natural disasters, said he reached out to chef after hearing his non-profit World Central Kitchen had opened a Pennsylvania Avenue cafe to provide free hot meals and “to go” items to the estimated 800,000 furloughed government employees and their families.
“I saw that he was getting set up here in D.C. ... and I wanted to see if there was an opportunity to just show my support for his work and show support for the federal employees that have been put in this impossible situation,” he said in an interview.
Kennedy, however, noted that his request to volunteer with “Chefs for Feds” did not come without some stipulations.
“I reached out to (Andres') team and they said, 'Yeah, we’d be happy to have you come, but you have to bring a colleague that’s from the other party.”
Days later, the Massachusetts Democrat showed up at the downtown D.C. location with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican who joined him in handing out hundreds of cheesesteaks, rice bowls and other lunches to federal employees and contractors that had lined up for blocks around the cafe.
Kennedy said it was “heartbreaking” to see firsthand the human toll of the federal government shutdown, noting that “Chefs for Feds” had served up over 7,000 meals on Tuesday and was on track to hand out another 10,000 on Wednesday.
“The guy who was next me, helping me put these meals out for folks and serving the folks that were coming through was, himself, a furloughed employee from the Department of Transportation,” he said. “The people we were serving were from the FBI, from the Department of Justice, from the Department of Transportation, from EPA -- thousands of people -- hundreds that we’d seen in the time we were there."
Kennedy said while he and Hurd received a largely warm reception, it was “devastatingly sad to see a food line that’s hundreds of people long and know that there’s thousands of people that are trying to get a hot meal because (they) work for the United States government in 2019.”
“I shudder to think about what that says about our government and about our country," he said.
The congressman offered that while he’s grateful that Andres and others have stepped up to help federal workers during the government shutdown, he believes it “should never have come to this.”
Earlier this month, Andres launched the “Chefs for Feds” effort, which urges restaurants, food trucks, non-profits and other businesses around the country to serve meals to federal employees impacted by the shutdown -- now the longest in U.S. history.
Kennedy, who stressed that ending the shutdown is “not a partisan issue,” said he hopes more federal lawmakers visit or lend a hand at places like the Chefs for Feds Kitchen and Cafe.
“I don’t know how you stop by and saw what I just saw and talk even briefly to folks waiting in line and hear what I just heard and still believe that there’s not a human cost to what is taking place,” he said.
The Democrat added that his experience in serving the federal employees underscored the fact that reopening the government is the “most important things that needs to happen” in Washington.
“The government needs to open up and open up immediately so that these folks get their back pay -- to try to make sure that the financial edge that they are on, that everybody can breathe a sigh of relief,” he said.
Prior to serving lunch to furloughed federal employees, the congressman took to that message directly to the House floor.
Kennedy, in a floor speech, accused President Donald Trump of forcing the funding lapse over what he called “a misguided immigration fight" and argued that the shutdown is the latest example of the White House’s attacks on American workers.
“This is about an Administration that has spent two years treating the livelihood of working families as a bargaining chip, quickly traded away, time and again, to protect power, profit and political gain," he said. “Theirs is a system that asks American workers to make painful sacrifices that those in power only read about.”
The partial shutdown began late last month when funding ran out for nine Cabinet-level departments and various agencies after Congress and the White House failed to reach an agreement on border security in a must-pass spending measure.
Trump has pledged to oppose any spending bill that does not include $5 billion for his proposed border wall. Democrats, in turn, have vowed to block funding for the president’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.