Government shutdown worries local food pantries

Agencies could face increased demand if federal food assistance is cut off
Ozaukee Press staff

The federal government’s partial shutdown hasn’t affected local food pantries either in their supply of food or in demand from  residents. 

But that could change if the budget impasse continues, officials say.

“At this point we have some concerns; some very large concerns,” said Mark Gierach, director of the Saukville Community Food Pantry.

His pantry does not receive food from either the federal or state governments, but if (food benefits to the poor) are delayed or not funded, that will put a huge strain on local food pantries.

“The shutdown is not affecting the Port food pantry in any way,” Port Washington Food Pantry Director Chris Flint said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will use temporary funding to cover the cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, for February.

The USDA also is asking states to issue February’s benefits on Jan. 20, earlier than usual, to take advantage of a 2018 continuing resolution that kept the government funded temporarily. 

That resolution expired Dec. 21 but the government can make payments for 30 days after it expires.

Other nutrition assistance programs such as school meals and the Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, program will continue through March, the USDA says.

If the appropriations battle over President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall continues past February, however, and those programs aren’t funded, food pantries may see a sharp increase in demand.

“There will be a lot more people coming to food pantries if those programs aren’t funded,” Gierach said. “If that means SNAP and WIC are delayed or not funded then that will put a huge strain on local food pantries.”

Of the three local food pantries, Family Sharing in Grafton is the only one that receives federal commodities through the Emergency Food Assistance program, Executive Director Julie Hoover said.

“We are wondering when we will see an effect but we have not had word,” Hoover said.

Those food commodities vary month to month and range from chicken to frozen blueberries to canned goods from federal surpluses.

“We were told last fall because of the farm bailout we would start seeing a huge amount of meat and dairy and we were preparing for a massive input,” Hooever said. “But that hasn’t happened because of flooding in the south.”

Government workers who have been furloughed due to the shutdown also may start showing up at local pantries, but not so far.

“It won’t take too long for them to run out of money,” Hoover said. 

Potentially complicating matters is that the months after the holidays are typically the slowest time of year for donations to food pantries.

“It’s definitely a slow time of year for donations,” Hoover said. “It’s also a time of year we often see families we don’t normally see because of high heating bills or they seasonal work and are unemployed.

“The pantry (customer) numbers don’t go down, but donations definitely do,” she said.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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