Government Shut Down Impacts the Hungry

Updated: Jan 8, 2019

At the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank, we are preparing for the impact that an extended government shut down will have on our community. The effects of the shutdown on Americans is potentially life-threatening. Virginia has a large number of federal workers and as they go longer and longer without a paycheck, it could begin to put greater demand on food pantries. Consider the lives of federal employees whose paychecks have suddenly stopped. Many families live paycheck to paycheck and are now faced with tough choices, like choosing between groceries and paying utilities or rent or buying medication. The food bank anticipates an increase in the number of people in our community turning to us and our partner agencies for food assistance.

Twenty five percent of the government remains unfunded, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture which funds SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and Women Infant Care or WIC. WIC is a supplemental nutrition program for mothers, both pregnant and with children up to age 5. Funding is in place through January, but if the shutdown continues past then there will be a crisis for those who are using these programs as a ladder to security. In Virginia, approximately 169,000 women, infants, and children receive WIC benefits. In our region, over 26,775 people receive SNAP benefits every month. SNAP provides 12 meals for every one meal provided by the food bank network--it will be difficult, if not impossible for the food bank and pantries to make up this deficit.

The following comes from an article called "Poverty and Hunger in the Face of a Government Shutdown," by Jordyn Rozensky:

 Erin S. Shirl, an LL.M. Candidate in Agricultural & Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law shared her story with us. When asked why she engaged in food justice work she shared that it was “because I grew up below the poverty line and I know firsthand both the short and long-term effects of a childhood marked by the physical and psychological ramifications of food insecurity.” She went on to say,

I can't speak for the women and children affected by this present crisis, but I will never forget accompanying my mother to the store to purchase what little we could with food stamps, and the shame that crept over me while irritated patrons in line behind us shuffled and sighed as my mother counted out stamps to feed her family. No mother should have to cry herself to sleep at night fearing that she will not be able to feed her children, and no child should have to hear her mother's weeping. The emotional impact of all that fear, frustration, and shame lasts well into adulthood, and I cannot overstate the lifelong psychological impacts of living in that kind of uncertainty every day, or the strange lingering anxieties that continue to color my attitudes about food, even as a financially secure adult. My heart breaks for the women and children living through this crisis, for the worry and embarrassment they must feel. We have vilified poverty and those who live in it for so long and so well that to my family, at least, food stamps—too frequently, our most consistent source of food—were a scarlet letter. These condescending attitudes about poverty and hunger from policymakers make it incredibly difficult for many people to accept government assistance in the first instance, and to ask food insecure Americans to beg for that help from a recalcitrant Congress whose members largely have no personal understanding of poverty is evidence of an extremely broken system.

The reality of being hungry in America is a bleak one, as Erin’s story shows. Being hungry means an immediate physical threat from a lack of sustenance and proper nutrients. But being hungry is also accompanied by a lasting emotional trauma.

The Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank will continue to feel the strain of the situation as

the shutdown drags on. Remember that for every $5 you donate, 10 meals go out into the community. Consider making donations of diapers or baby formula, two things usually covered by the WIC program. The shutdown’s impact on hungry families will continue to be felt even after funding returns to the WIC and SNAP. Each family who needs assistance has been reminded just how vulnerable they truly are—and just how fragile their network of support is. There is a reality here that the politicians on both sides of the aisle have placed their fights before the needs of many American citizens. Please consider donating your time, talent, funds, supplies, and support to help us bridge the gap during such a difficult time. Please spread the news that anyone who is in need of food assistance can get help at one of our pantries. They can call 2-1-1 to find the agency closest to them.

Rozensky, Jordyn. "Poverty and Hunger in the Face of the Government Shutdown." 9 October 2013. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 7, 2019) <>.

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