The federal government shutdown has been devastating for many families across the United States for over a month now. It is estimated that 800,000 federal employees have been adversely affected by the shutdown with about 29,000 Wisconsinites are feeling the pain.
Masood Akhtar, the president/founder of We Are Many-United Against Hate and a local Muslim community leader, along with individuals from the Muslim community here in Madison, has raised $50,000 – so far – that they have announced they are willing to use to provide short-term, interest-free loans to furloughed federal workers in Wisconsin who are struggling to pay their bills.
“We, as Muslim community, feel their pain and are committed to help them out by initiating this pilot,” Akhtar tells Madison365. “It’s a human-to-human feeling that you have where there is somebody who is in the situation of not paying the bills. There are kids and families being affected and you sit down and offer something. From that, there is a bond that is built.”
We’ve now hit day 31 of the partial government shutdown, and more and more federal workers in Wisconsin are becoming more and more desperate as the shutdown looms with no end in sight.
However, since Akhtar announced his initiative earlier this week, he has been amazed at the response he has been getting.
“I’ve already had a few people contact me for funds – two people from Wisconsin and one person from Philadelphia – and I also had somebody who wants to know how they can contribute to this initiative,” he says. “I’m pretty excited that the word is getting out. There is a need that we are planning on serving.
“We strongly believe as a Muslim community that these employees are just simply the victims of our federal government inaction,” Akhtar adds, “and it’s just dragging on and people are really struggling. We want to do this little piece, as a pilot, to show that we are all in this community together.”
Akhtar got together with his fellow Muslim community members who all agreed that this was necessary and they quickly raised about $50,000.
“Our intent is to make this loan process really simple so we don’t have any organizations or banks involved in this,” he says. “We wanted to add a human element to it.
“This has nothing to do with any religion, color, or ethnicity. Anybody who is a federal employee who is furloughed can apply for this,” he adds.
They will have a loan document that will be very simple with some basic information that Ahktar will request.
“Obviously, we’ll be very flexible to fit into their needs of payment. We don’t want them to be overburdened,” Ahktar says. “As soon as they sign the documents, we sit down – if the person is in Madison – and we hand over a check.
Akhtar hopes that not only will the Muslim community raise awareness about the people who have been hurt by the shutdown, but that it might possibly create a snowball effect of kindness among humans.
“We believe that once we help a person in this situation and once they get back to their job and the shutdown is over, they will have funds to pay it back,” he says. “But they will also remember these days when community members came together to help and when the time comes to help another community member, they will be the first ones who will be coming forward because they will not forget what the community did.”
With this recent unique interest-free loan pilot program, Madison’s Muslim community is starting to get some national attention.
“The need is there and I’m happy that we are getting the word out. I’m very surprised that The New York Times is picking up this story, too. I was just interviewed by The Times and the woman said that she will run the story on Saturday or Sunday,” Akhtar says. “I always tell people that the way we do things in Wisconsin is special and we need to focus as a model that can be duplicated in other states. We have so many resources and great community support. It’s an unbelievable community that we have here in Madison, we just need to capitalize on it.”
Contact Masood Akhtar at [email protected] if you are a federal worker in need of help or if you’d like to contribute to this initiative.