Emergency food pantries say they will have to do more with less, thanks to the government shutdown. Food banks across the country are bracing for the suspension of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food assistance programs, which have become increasingly important to feed the needy.
As private donations dried up during the recession, the USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and Commodity Assistance Programs have helped charities and non-profits keep their inventories stocked. The USDA warned Monday that federal funds will halt until Congress strikes a deal, leaving food banks wondering if they should start planning for food shortages.
Larger organizations, like the Red Cross, Feeding America, and the United Food Bank can cover the shortfalls for a few weeks, but expect to pick up the pieces when many smaller food banks that depend solely on federal funds are forced to close. United Food Bank CEO Bob Evans said his organization will have to reallocate resources to keep distributing food if the shutdown continues. “It won’t be the end of the world for us, but it would hurt the people who need it most,” Evan told Arizona’s East Valley Tribune.
A recent USDA report found that TEFAP foods are far more nutritious than the overall U.S. food supply, making them invaluable to food pantries trying to serve balanced meals. Last year, TEFAP provided roughly 585 million pounds of nutritious food commodities. According to Feeding America, TEFAP provides about 17.3 percent of the food moving through their national network of 61,000 local agencies, and 90 percent of their food banks distribute these federal contributions.
Food pantries are already overburdened by rising hunger and reduced donations. Sequestration has also slashed federal contributions, forcing food banks to offer less food even as they are swamped by record numbers of needy people. The shutdown of the USDA’s many food assistance programs is yet another blow to impoverished families and the organizations that serve them.
Even in these dire conditions, some conservatives are scoffing at the idea that the political fight over the shutdown will cause families to go hungry.