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Amid Christmas Shutdown, José Andres Offers Free Meal For Federal Employees


And to the shutdown - it's nearly Christmas, and 380,000 federal workers are on furlough. Another 420,000 are working without pay. President Trump wants $5 billion to build along the southern border what started as a big, beautiful wall - his words - and now is something.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: A wall or a slat fence or whatever you want to call it, but we need a great barrier.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Democrats won't fund that great barrier, and Congress won't meet again about reopening the federal government until Thursday. But amid the Christmastime uncertainty is a small glimmer of generosity. Celebrity chef Jose Andres is promising furloughed federal workers a free lunch at any of his Washington restaurants for as long as the shutdown lasts. NPR's Bobby Allyn reports.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Spanish-born Andres announced it on Twitter. Bring your federal government ID to any of his eight restaurants in the nation's capitol, and lunch is on him.

DAVID KASSEBAUM: I don't have my ID with me. I didn't know anything about it until you said it. Man, I'll have to remember that.

ALLYN: That's David Kassebaum, a federal employee who does international development work. Kassebaum was leaving Jaleo, a Spanish tapas hot spot owned by Andres.

KASSEBAUM: I appreciate it. It's a nice gesture, especially at the holiday season. And there's not a lot of other open gestures like that.

ALLYN: Flo Rivera (ph) also left the restaurant. She was visiting Washington from Puerto Rico, where she works as an airport TSA agent. The 53,000 employees of the agency are considered essential so will have to work without pay until a new budget is passed.

FLO RIVERA: We still have to go to work. And the airport is not going to close (laughter), so we still have to go.

ALLYN: Many like Rivera say they're anxious - not her, though.

RIVERA: Well, right now, no. I'm confident that everything's going to get back into shape soon.

ALLYN: This is the third government shutdown in Washington this year. For Dominic Parisi, who works for the Social Security Administration, it's almost part of the job. Over his long career at SSA, he's experienced a dozen shutdowns.

DOMINIC PARISI: It makes you wonder about how much you're appreciated. And it makes public service more challenging.

ALLYN: Will a free pulled pork sandwich help remedy this grief? Maybe a little - he'll bring his ID next time, he says.

PARISI: Well, if I'm in the neighborhood, I certainly will because I do love the food here (laughter).

ALLYN: The shutdown coming before a long, holiday weekend took some of the pressure off lawmakers. But still, nobody knows how long the closure could last. Chef Andres, meanwhile, says he won't be running out of bread anytime soon. Bobby Allyn, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAT JON'S "SOUNDGIRL PERSONAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.