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Gov’t Shutdown: Food Banks Expect Increased Demand

October 3, 2013

The government shutdown will not affect food delivery to the hundreds of neighborhood pantries the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks serve, but the Food Bank anticipates increased demand for services.

"The Food Bank’s 240 food pantries and support to meal providers such as St. Anthony’s and Glide will continue as usual,” says Food Bank Executive Director Paul Ash. “This is possible because our programs are primarily funded by private donations from individual and corporate donors here in San Francisco and Marin.

However, any reduction in federal funding or food has a direct impact on Food Bank programs because it increases demand for our services.”

Watchful waiting
The Food Bank is closely watching the impact the government shutdown will have on social service programs. The long-term impact on programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – which provides money for groceries to 57,000 people in San Francisco and Marin, is unknown; however, monthly benefits for October have been distributed.

The Food Bank does administer two programs run by the USDA – the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which distributes monthly USDA-provided groceries to 11,000 seniors – and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which allows the Food Bank to access commodity food for distribution to its pantry network.

While state contingency funds are expected to sustain many programs for the interim, long-term funding is still unknown. Many government websites are unavailable and furloughs mean that staff at agencies like the USDA are not available by phone or email.

A feeling of scarcity
“You can imagine, if it’s difficult for us, as a non-profit, to confirm information, just how very difficult it must be for our populations who need food assistance. People who live close to the economic edge are vulnerable to any change in their circumstances, be it a reduction in their working hours or, of course, a government shutdown that may reduce their available services,” Ash says. “We anticipate that some of these folks may be feeling a significant amount of anxiety about their food budgets right now and that will probably be reflected in the demand for our services.

“We want to let them know that the Food Bank is here for them – our pantries are open and operating. And we will stay open longer and provide more food if they need it – we will do whatever it takes.”

Difficult timing
The government shutdown comes at a difficult time for the food assistance network. The House recently voted to reduce the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, by $40 billion. This is on top of impending cuts that impact all SNAP participants starting in November 2013.

“Make no mistake, these cuts to SNAP will take food from the refrigerators and kitchen tables of vulnerable low-income families,” Ash says.

According to Feeding America, nationally the legislation will cause at least 4 million people to lose their SNAP benefits entirely, another 850,000 households to lose an average $90 per month in SNAP benefits, and cause 210,000 children to lose free school meals.

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