We're two days into the shutdown and one thing for certain has changed: all the usual websites we at the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) typically access from the feds are shut down. But we did do a little research ourselves before the shutdown about how this might impact the Food Bank so I'll share a few highlights.
The Food Bank already ramps up during the fall season to distribute more than 4 million pounds a month. We are diverting some staff time to research continued impacts on government programs, create contingency planning and handle questions from our frontline 600 partner agencies. If the shutdown continues beyond October, we anticipate loss of food and likely increased need for food assistance.
A key food source for ACFB’s partner agencies and their clients, federal USDA commodities from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), is expected to continue arriving at the Food Bank through October. But we are vulnerable to not getting reimbursed for our normal administrative costs for distributing this product - up to a million pounds. Of some concern is the food for our senior Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) boxes. We have a two month supply on hand, but an extended shutdown could delay the ordering, shipping and service after those two months for the approximately 2,000 seniors who rely on that wonderful support.
Continued funding for the WIC (Women, Infant, and Children) program that supports over 300,000 mothers, infants and children in Georgia has been cut off, but the Georgia Department of Public Health is working to keep the program operating as long as possible. While this doesn't directly impact our product distribution, we are advising our frontline food pantry agencies to prepare for many of those women to reach out for extra grocery help in October. A big challenge is that most of our agencies tend to have slim inventory of infant formula and other basic newborn support items.
Food Stamps (SNAP) benefits are not impacted in the short run, but the overall timing of the federal shutdown can only accentuate the other pending, under-publicized issue about SNAP benefits: Effective November 1st, all SNAP recipients nationwide will have their monthly benefits reduced by just over 5%, a legislative decision that was made two years ago. Again, we've alerted our agencies to expect an increase in demand and thus will be ramping up, with more intensity, our own normal holiday food procurement efforts to support them.
In summary, these challenges to WIC, CSFP, and USDA should make us strengthen our compassion for the those in need even more, and ramp up our advocacy for political compromises to be undertaken not at the expense of our most vulnerable neighbors.
VP, Community Services