The partial government shutdown, now in its fifth week, is putting a strain on local food pantries throughout North Carolina and across the country. Major social safety net programs haven’t dried up yet, but those who depend on them are increasingly worried as the shutdown continues with no resolution in sight.
Carrie Calvert, the managing director for government relations at the hunger relief organization Feeding America, told The Associated Press food banks are running low on supplies after a notable spike in demand from the furloughed federal employees, contractors and others who are out of work because of the shutdown.
"This is a potentially catastrophic situation," Calvert said. "This could be an immediate emergency that grows exponentially."
You can help make sure there’s enough food to go around at these North Carolina food banks located in Asheville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Elizabeth City, Winston-Salem and Fayetteville.
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You can either contact your local food bank directly or make a donation to Feeding America to ensure the organization can provide food for your neighbors now and after the shutdown ends.
Feeding America, which secures and distributes about 4.3 billion meals every year through its food pantries and meal programs, is connecting furloughed workers with emergency food resources and encouraging them to visit local pantries.
Some local food banks are amping up their services in response to heavy needs in their areas. Feeding the Gulf Coast, which serves areas with large populations of Coast Guard members in southern Mississippi, South Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, is increasing its distributions and mobile pantries.
Some others are operating pop-up food pantries to support Transportation Security Administration agents who are working without pay. St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix is distributing food to TSA agents, and other food banks, including Feeding Tampa Bay and Atlanta Community Food Bank, are setting up temporary pantries at airports.
Others food pantries are extending their hours or organizing food distribution events. For example, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank added distributions at its two warehouses and the Foodbank of the Albemarle in North Carolina is opening up on Wednesdays – a day they’re normally closed – to help support families affected by the shutdown.
Nationally, Feeding America is lobbying the Trump administration and Congress to let them know that many of the furloughed workers are one paycheck away from hunger.
Critics say the Trump administration is increasingly tone deaf about the pain the shutdown is having on average Americans. For example, on Thursday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he didn’t understand why the 800,000 federal workers furloughed without pay don’t take out loans to buy food and other necessities. Ross, one of the richest people in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, made the statements to CNBC.
Trump has said that the unpaid government workers "will make adjustments," and has claimed without evidence that they support his demand for $5.75 billion in border wall funding to end the showdown.
"People understand exactly what’s going on," Trump said two weeks ago. "But many of those people that won’t be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I’m doing."
Kevin Hassett, who chairs the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, has suggested the furloughed workers are "in some sense … better off" because they’re getting a vacation from work and will recoup it down the road, though he later said his comments were taken out of context.
Lara Trump, president’s daughter-in-law and a campaign aide, said this week, "It is a little bit of pain but it’s going to be for the future of our country."
On Thursday, she told Fox News she was "incredibly empathetic towards anyone right now without a paycheck" and said that her message had been misrepresented by the media.
If the shutdown continues much longer, the government’s ability to meet its obligations under social safety net programs that provide food stamps and housing assistance could be affected. Two federal agencies crucial to the safety net — the Department of Agriculture, which provides food assistance programs, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides housing assistance — are largely shuttered.
The USDA said earlier this month that SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that provides food aid to nearly 40 million Americans, is fully funded through February due to a loophole in the spending bill. But with only $3 billion in reserve, the USDA won’t be able to cover the $4.8 billion in monthly benefits if the standoff in Washington, D.C., stretches into March.
Even if food assistance benefits continue uninterrupted, recipients would have to make their benefits last six weeks instead of four. Any lapse in benefits would be unprecedented, according to the USDA, which said that since the food stamp benefits program was made permanent in 1964, there has never been a lapse in benefits.
Patch’s Beth Dalbey and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Photo: A government worker, left, gets groceries at a food bank for government workers affected by the shutdown, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)