Summer Lee Fights for Food Banks Bracing for Impact Amid Government Shutdown Threats

Sep 27, 2023
Press

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 27, 2023

Contact: Emilia.Rowland@mail.house.gov

Summer Lee Fights for Food Banks Bracing for Impact Amid Government Shutdown Threats

(WASHINGTON, DC) — Congresswoman Summer Lee (PA-12) released the following statement after House Republicans signaled their intent to force a government shutdown in just 3 days, putting food banks at risk and making food insecurity a pressing issue for many people in Pennsylvania and across America.

In times of government shutdowns, we’ve witnessed the overwhelming surge in demand at local food banks, many reaching out their hands for the first time, seeking a much-needed lifeline in a sea of uncertainty,” said Congresswoman Lee.

Lee continued, “In my district alone, over 61,000 folks are food insecure. This means that every day, thousands of tough choices are being made—choices that no one should have to face. Seniors are being forced to choose between food or medication, and working families must decide between keeping the lights on or providing their children with nourishing meals. These aren’t just abstract numbers or faceless statistics—these are our people, our community members grappling with the unchosen reality of hunger that will only be escalated by the irresponsibility of a forced Republican shutdown. Our communities deserve leaders who will stand by them, not ones that gamble with their lives and leave them to confront hunger alone just to put on a political show. You know where to find me though— I’ll be here holding the line against these pro-hunger tactics while demanding NO SHUTDOWN and NO CUTS!”

As a leading voice in the fight against hunger, Lee, the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress, understands the struggle and has walked many miles in the shoes of the struggling as she once depended on these lifeline programs that will be torn away from Americans through Republicans forced shutdown and their proposed cuts.

 

During an Extreme Republican Shutdown, women and children who count on WIC would soon start being turned away at grocery store counters, with a federal contingency fund drying up after just a few days and many states left with limited WIC funds to operate the program. In PA-12 alone 10,330 recipients receive WIC and would lost food assistance. On top of that, 8,642 workers in Allegheny county would be furloughed.

A Government Shutdown Will Increase Food Insecurity

Each month, millions of people trust that federal nutrition programs will be there to help them through tough times—a government shutdown threatens benefits in these programs and harms individuals experiencing food insecurity. Additionally, a shutdown could have a devastating impact on millions of government workers and federal contractors. If these workers miss paychecks, it could jeopardize their ability to put food on the table and cover other household expenses. During previous shutdowns, food banks across the country saw large spikes in demand for emergency food assistance, with many people seeking help for the first time. 

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank urges Congress to avoid a shutdown by swiftly passing fiscal year 2024 appropriations legislation or a continuing resolution that provides strong funding for nutrition programs. 

“Any level of government shutdown will have adverse effects across our 11-county service area, including potential impacts to SNAP payments and reduced food supply,” Lisa Scales, president and CEO of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank said. “We have also learned from past experience that federal employees, active-duty military members and federal contractor employees will face a new reality of needing help to feed their families. Our network of more than 1,000 agencies, partners and programs will be prepared to step up to meet the increased demand, but we are mindful of the risk a shutdown poses to the demand for assistance and to Food Bank operations in the face of increased need and absence of federal funding.”

How will a shutdown affect federal nutrition programs? 

A shutdown jeopardizes vital federal nutrition programs, potentially leaving individuals and families in your district and across the country with delayed, reduced or even zero benefits. 

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Even a brief shutdown has the potential to disrupt SNAP benefits for families if there is a lack of funding, a delay in processing benefits, or both. As food prices remain high, confusion around SNAP benefit timing or the sudden loss of this grocery purchasing support would jeopardize food access for roughly 42 million people who receive support from SNAP. Learn about the impact of SNAP in your state. 
  • USDA commodity food purchases and administrative funds: During a shutdown, food banks may see disruptions in storage and distribution funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). Additionally, food deliveries and administrative funds for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) could be disrupted. During previous shutdowns, FDPIR sites facing funding gaps were forced to furlough workers, which had a cascading impact that interrupted food deliveries and distributions to individuals and families. 
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): The WIC program currently serves nearly 6.7 million pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children. A shutdown that disrupts nutrition benefits and other WIC services would harm children at a time of critical developmental importance. 
  • Child nutrition programs: A prolonged shutdown threatens the timing of administrative reimbursements and general support for these programs, including school breakfast and lunch as well as afterschool meals provided through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), due to the impact of federal workers being furloughed. 

How will a shutdown affect food banks? 

Food banks are facing a food supply crisis. Many are struggling to meet sustained and heightened need in communities across the country, while feeling the compounded effects of continued supply chain disruptions, increased food purchase and transportation costs, and a significant decrease in USDA foods. A Feeding America survey found that around 70% of responding food banks reported seeing demand for food assistance increase or stay the same in July 2023 compared to June. 

Food banks will continue to do all they can to serve their communities, but their food and funds can only go so far. A surge in demand for charitable food assistance brought on by a shutdown would be more than many already strained food banks could manage. 

How will a shutdown affect individuals and families? 

If the government shuts down, federal workers, active-duty military members and federal contract employees could find themselves temporarily without a paycheck and facing hunger. Food banks will be the first, and potentially only, option for assistance for millions of people whose paychecks or federal benefits did not arrive as expected in October. 

Even without a shutdown, our food bank has seen a dramatic increase in households seeking food assistance this year. If there are delays in administering SNAP benefits, it is highly likely that our agencies will see a substantial increase in demand, which will be difficult to manage with limited resources. Many of our agency partners rely heavily on TEFAP foods because they have limited or no food budgets and can only access the free product from our inventory – most of which comes through TEFAP. 

Impact of the 2018 Government Shutdown 

The partial government shutdown in 2018 lasted 35 days, and some 800,000 federal employees missed paychecks. All federal employees were eventually repaid, but federal contractors were not. Over a million contractors lost more than 10% of their annual income during this shutdown. 

The timeline for loading SNAP benefits onto EBT cards was disrupted for the first time in history for all 40 million participants, creating mass confusion and challenges to family budgeting. 

To support government employees missing pay during the shutdown, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank stood up 8 additional distributions serving 822 households. 

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