A former Express hawker says laid off workers still haven’t received money raised on their behalf after the Washington Post unexpectedly shut down the free daily paper in September.
“I am very grateful to our riders who donated to help hold us over while we seek other employment,” they wrote to City Paper via email last Wednesday.
The former distributor has been doing “odd jobs” since they were laid off five months ago. A GoFundMe campaign last year raised more than $20,000, which would bring each of the 75 distributors a couple hundred dollars. That money could go a long way. The distributor who contacted City Paper requested anonymity for fear that they wouldn’t receive a check after inquiring about the crowdfunded dollars.
The office of At-Large Councilmember Robert White, who offered to help after crowdfunders faced logistical obstacles, confirms that the money hasn’t been divvied out yet. The nonprofit that volunteered to assist with distribution, Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, says it’s faced challenges identifying the mailing address for every former Express worker.
When the Post closed Express after a 16-year run, the media company left dozens of workers without jobs. But unlike the 20 journalists who lost their jobs, the distributors received no severance. These individuals who spent sometimes years hawking the paper weren’t even given advanced notice. It turns out the distributors worked for a third-party company contracted by the Post.
Commuters who got to know hawkers grew concerned for their wellbeing after they were laid off. Erin D’Amato was one such commuter and took action quickly. She and her sister actually started a GoFundMe page for one former hawker, Hassan Nezhadessivandi, and another one for all the other hawkers. D’Amato was able to raise $20,603, about $274 per distributor.
But as D’Amato first told DCist in November, distributing GoFundMe dollars was anything but easy. One obstacle D’Amato faced early on was getting all the right contact information for the hawkers, who were employed by five different companies. “Not all of them were very responsive or very helpful,” she said at the time. Even if she did get all the right mailing addresses, GoFundMe will not cut checks to more than one bank account.
White eventually got involved in the GoFundMe debacle, offering to help identify a nonprofit to hand out the checks instead. The councilmember recognized the impact Express had on the District, drafting a resolution to recognize the workers in November. His office contacted a number of nonprofits and FSFSC volunteered.
“We wanted to be supportive of the city,” says FSFSC Executive Director Dionne Bussey-Reeder. “Our goal is to be a good steward—be partners with the city to improve the lives of residents.”
“The organization just recently received the funds,” says Rita Lewis, a spokesperson for White. “They are in the process of trying to gather a few missing mailing addresses and the funds should be distributed soon.”
Bussey-Reeder says her staff does not have all the relevant information—namely, mailing addresses—for each of the 75 laid off workers. Has she reached out to the contractors? “We don’t have the capacity to reach out to each of those individuals,” she says, pointing out that she just has one administrative assistant.
The plan right now is to write checks for all 75 of the distributors and only send out those with mailing addresses.
“We will hold the remaining checks for 30 or 60 days. During the 30 to 60 day check hold period, we will reach out to reporters who previously covered this story in hopes they will put out a public notice to remaining distributors to reach back out with their addresses,” her staff explains via email. “After the waiting period, the remaining funds will be disbursed to whosever addresses are on hand at that time.”
If former Express distributors want to make sure they are on the list, they are advised to contact FSFSC.