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Hunger Doesn't Shutdown

by Christina Wong

As you know well by now, the federal government shutdown at midnight on Tuesday because Congress is at an impasse over passing a budget to keep up funding for all government programs and services with the start of the new fiscal year that started on October 1.

The news has been flooded with stories about what impact that has had, everything from the closure of national parks and monuments to the loss of life saving treatment for children who are referred to a closed National Institute of Health. Among those whose lives are also at risk during this shutdown: hungry Americans.

Here's a breakdown of what will happen to the programs and services that help feed hungry families, individuals, and children:

  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) will continue to issue payments to current recipients; however, the USDA only has $2 billion in contingency funds available for state offices to use to help process new and renewed applications. This means that low-income individuals in need of food assistance may experience delays in getting connected to this vital program, and here in Washington state, our local benefits offices have lost over 400 full-time employees since the start of the recession, resulting in difficulties for individuals to get connected to the application process.
  • Also related to SNAP, there are no more additional funds available for our employment and training programs for individuals on SNAP as well as no additional funds available for SNAP education programs that provide cooking and nutrition classes for SNAP recipients.
  • The Women and Infant Children (WIC) program here in Washington was in danger of running out of funds for checks that help low-income families with children aged 5 and younger buy nutritious items like baby formula by Oct. 9-- this would have been devastating in Washington as more than 50% of all Washington children receive WIC services. However, the USDA has been able to reallocate some remaining contingency funds to keep this important program running through the end of October.
  • Programs that help provide food for distribution by our state's emergency food network are in danger. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) provide commodities purchased by USDA to help regulate the market, to food banks to give out to customers and to seniors. At the moment, the supply of commodities is limited to those items that have already been purchased. At this time, there are no additional funds available to help purchase more commodities when those items run out.
  • Lastly, the school meals program, summer meals program, and after school meals program have enough funds to run through the end of October.

At this time, the shutdown is a very fluid situation: our hope is that Congress will break the impasse and pass a budget by the end of the week, but if that doesn't happen, another complication to budget negotiations will be the disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over raising our debt ceiling limit, risking America's defaulting on foreign loans, sinking our world credit rating, and plummeting our ecnonomy. One glimmer of hope is that Speaker John Boehner announced today that he will not let this impasse risk a default on our loans. If that's the case, then we hope that the impasse will end before Oct. 17 which is when it is anticipated that we will hit our current debt ceiling limit.

In the meantime, if you or someone you know is in need of food assistance, you can do two things:

1. Please visit our website and click on the "Need Food? We Can Help" link to help you find our partner food banks and meal programs in your area. In addition to using these resources to help people in need find food, for those of you who are able to do so, these programs could also use donations of time, food, or money.

2. Please share your story about how you will be impacted by this shutdown by contacting your member of Congress or by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper. Be sure to urge Congress to end this impasse now in order to help families in need.

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