Hopefully, by the time this is printed, the government shutdown will be over. Feeding America, our national affiliate, has been very busy with communications to Congress regarding the impact that is being felt and what an extended time frame for the shutdown might mean for tens of millions of families living on the edge or well below the level of self-sufficiency. There’s an old proverb that goes something like this – When elephants fight, the ants are the ones who pay the price. Ants, individually, are less powerful than elephants, but given the size difference ants are much stronger than elephants and are well known with their ability of working together. This reference is not intended to direct any negativity toward either political party, but as an encouragement toward both to remain in conversation, be open to ideas that may lead to a broader range of topics which could lead to some compromise with points both could claim victory. The all or nothing approach seems to further divide our country.
On the ground, reality as of last week looks like SNAP benefits will be paid to current recipients for the rest of January. All the February benefits will be loaded on the cards in late January so the recipients will need to budget them for the entire month. March benefits or funding is to be determined, but not known if it will be available at all at this time. The TEFAP, (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) which is the old “government cheese” program, now a product line of 30-40 items, will have food continue to flow to our warehouse for distribution in all our 8 county service area through February. The product line is about 15% of our total distribution. The difficult news for us is the government will not be providing the funding for the work even though we have a contract. Beyond February, it’s anybody’s guess if this program’s food or money will be flowing back into the pipeline.
The WIC, (Women, Infants and Children) program will also be funded through the end of February. This program may be funded beyond February as some additional unspent money from 2018 has been identified.
Eventually, we may see longer lines at our Tailgate Distributions in each county. The food pantry agencies, soup kitchens and community centers who do food distributions may also see lines begin to grow. It is too early to know the impact this will have on our inventory and our ability to secure additional resources, but I can see the clouds forming on the horizon.
These circumstances are adding pressure to a large group of families who already have a lot of pressure to make ends meet. It is also putting people who have been self-sufficient into a circumstance of needing assistance to feed their family even if the circumstance is short-lived. A recent study commissioned by Fifth Third Bank found that 47% of all families in the United States are living from paycheck-to-paycheck and 63% don’t have the savings to cover a $500 car repair. That means roughly half the total population of our community would find an unexpected car repair enough to cause a financial train wreck. This may not hit home to me until it impacts me or someone in my family. It seems that the current limbo status of programs offering limited short-term relief would generate significant concern and lead to a lot of communication to federal elected officials. When enough people or ants start talking, I think all the elephants may listen. Public pressure may decide this outcome.