On December 21, lacking the funding legislation to keep it up and running, the government entered a partial shutdown. Over a month later, now with holiday festivities and New Year celebrations well behind us, the shutdown lingers on. As a result, organizations like the St. Louis Area Foodbank are preparing to offer assistance to those facing the consequences of a what could be a lengthy interruption in assistance, income, and stability.
For those of us connected to the Foodbank or any number of local organizations fighting hunger throughout the St. Louis region, a sustained government shutdown is particularly troubling given the government’s crucial role in helping millions of Americans access the resources they need to feed their families. The government does this through a number of federal nutrition programs, which rely on federal funding and federal employees to operate. The largest of these programs is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), which plays a vital role in supporting children, seniors, families and veterans from coast to coast. It provides roughly 40 million people with the access to food they need to thrive every month and is a powerful example of the kind of contribution government programs makes to the broader anti-hunger movement. For perspective, consider this: for each meal one of the 200 food banks within Feeding America’s national network provides, SNAP provides twelve. That says a lot considering that food banks distributed over 4 billion meals nationwide last year, 35 million of which were distributed by the St. Louis Area Foodbank in the 14 Missouri and 12 Illinois counties it serves.
Ultimately, SNAP’s impact on our communities cannot be overlooked and neither can the need so many in our region continue to face. 1 in 6 people in the bi-state region is food insecure, and they rely on programs like SNAP and resources provided by organizations like the Foodbank to make ends meet. The good news is a resolution passed before the shutdown ensures that SNAP benefits will be available to participants through February without interruption. However, the future is less certain. Without legislation to open the government, fund current programs, and operate federal agencies, SNAP recipients could see a significant decrease and eventual cutoff of benefits in March.
To complicate matters further, non-profits like the Foodbank and its network of community partners working to meet this increased need will eventually feel the pressure of the shutdown as well. Government programs designed to help low-income families and seniors account for roughly 25% of the 43.5 million pounds of food the Foodbank distributes each year. That’s an average of over 870,000 pounds of food that hungry people in our region wouldn’t receive each month.
Meanwhile, approximately 800,000 federal employees are either currently furloughed or being asked to work without pay. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, that number includes more than 25,000 employees in the St. Louis metropolitan area. If you’re wondering what these workers are going to do, you’re not alone. Unpaid federal workers are sharing their stories on Twitter,demonstrating the kind of strain and uncertainty so many of our neighbors are now facing as a result of the shutdown. One Twitter user writes, “Just got a notice that I am now laid off by my small government contracting company, no back pay. I create e-learning and apps for diplomats. I loved my job. My diplomat husband is essential with no pay, we have a mortgage and a kid with braces. Please end this. #ShutdownStories” (@MalaysiaSunny). Another posted a picture of a nearly empty fridge with the caption, “My fridge, don’t need to say more #ShutdownStories” (@quienmay).
From low-income seniors and veterans to contract workers and furloughed employees, our nation is feeling the burden of the government shutdown. While partisan politics keep government’s doors closed, many are facing difficult choices on an increasingly limited clock.
However long the shutdown lasts, the St. Louis Area Foodbank remains committed to striving for a stronger, healthier bi-state region where no one goes to bed hungry, mindful that this vision is not one we can fully achieve on our own. With our neighbors’ access to stable incomes – and with them basic resources like food – on the line, we look to our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle and urge them to pass legislation to reopen the government without delay.
If you or someone you know is a federal employee, government contractor, or SNAP recipient being affected by the government shutdown
and need of food assistance, please visit our government shutdown page for resources and information.