OGDEN — A frustrated trio of Weber County commissioners met with GOP Sen. Mitt Romney on Friday on the protracted shutdown and its effects on 5,000 federal workers in this northern Utah community.
"There has to be some middle ground. It is really frustrating," Weber County Commissioner Scott Jenkins said afterward.
"You walk down 25th Street and the restaurants that are generally full aren't looking that way. … It's starting to take its toll," he said.
"That is what we are feeling. That's what we told him. We are not feeling the love."
Patrons, however, have been expressing some love this week by helping to subsidize one of those restaurants on 25th Street that has been offering free and discounted meals to federal workers who are either furloughed at home or working without pay.
“It mostly hurts my heart that this is where we are in America right now, that we can’t even get along well enough to actually do the right thing,” said Anna Davidson, who runs Jessie Jean’s with her husband, Ron.
While the restaurant at 195 25th Street dealt with the loss of sales, Davidson said she and her husband felt it was important to take care of people in the community having a hard time.
“This is not about making money. This is about giving back and using food as the medium,” she said.
Customers at the restaurant were inspired.
On Wednesday, Amir Jackson went to the restaurant and offered $50 to help offset the costs of offering discounted food. “We sink and swim together,” Jackson said. “You may not be able to do everything, but you can do something and that something does matter.”
Word spread and others started offering donations, too. One donation came from a woman in Texas who had heard about what was happening.
"There really are good people," Davidson said. "She touched my heart in a way, just with a phone call that was like pretty amazing.”
The restaurant offered free coffee and tacos Thursday to any federal workers who came in the door. By Friday, Davidson said donations continued to come in.
"I got another $150 donation last night on Venmo, so that puts the total of today at like $450, which equals about 75 meals," she said.
Romney, R-Utah, said members of the U.S. Senate are frustrated with the shutdown like everyone else, but they are trying to arrive at a solution.
"We're going to keep fighting, looking for solutions to get the government open because people are hurting, and I want to make sure we do everything in our power to get government open again."
Jenkins said Weber County has about the highest number of federal employees in the state with its IRS offices and serving as home for regional headquarters of the U.S. Forest Service.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Ogden Bishops' Storehouse, Catholic Community Services and other entities have stepped up to do what they can, Jenkins added, and some financial institutions are offering grace periods for overdue mortgage payments and other loans.
But as the federal shutdown hits Day 29 Saturday, Jenkins said there's little optimism it will end soon.
"They need to get along enough to at least talk," he said, referring to the dug-in positions of House Democrat leadership and GOP President Donald Trump.
Romney said he was among a group of 10 GOP senators who met with 10 Democrat senators last week to hammer out some possible solutions.
He said they were told not to bother.
"So people are saying it is going to take the president and the speaker to come together," he said. "It's quite apparent it will take the president and the speaker of the House to come together to break the impasse."
The commissioners emphasized they are worried about the prolonged effect on families and small businesses.
"This is a serious concern," said Weber County Commissioner Jim Harvey.
Romney said doesn't believe the two sides are that far apart — on policy.
"On policy it strikes me like there's not a big gap. But, the politics have drawn people into different corners."2 comments on this story
The IRS called more than 40,000 employees back to work without pay last week, including about 1,000 workers in Ogden. Workers there have staged a protest over the shutdown and furloughs.
Davidson said she hopes to be able to continue offering food at her restaurant as long as people keep donating money. If you would like to make a donation, you can send it through Venmo to Anna-Davidson-13 or on PayPal to [email protected]
"I am just overwhelmed with the number of people who have stepped up and just reached out," she said.
Contributing: Jed Boal, Paul Nelson, Viviane Vo-Duc