Local Food Banks, Soup Kitchens address implications of shutdown

Christina Suttles

As the days of government shutdown continue, various federally funded organizations throughout Ohio are bracing for long-term effects. If Congress doesn’t reach an agreement on legislation to authorize funding for a new fiscal year in the coming days, not only will government agencies be thrust into an endless state of limbo, but local food banks, pantries and soup kitchens may see a drastic increase in demand for services.

The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which assists the nutritional needs of more than 9 million mothers and infants in America, will be one of the public welfare services hit hardest by the fiscal hold. The program gives grants to states for food, health care, and education for low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and children in need of dietary assistance.

As of Oct. 1, its funding has completely dried out, according to the Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for oversight of the program.

In Portage County, this means women would lose access to coupons for healthy food, nutrition education and counseling, referrals to community programs, breastfeeding support and immunization screenings.

“We are in serious trouble if the shutdown continues into November,” said Nora Balduff, director of child and senior nutrition for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

Ohio has funds available to cover state operations and local agency funding into early November, and the Ohio Department of Health is offering a rebate contingency plan of approximately $24.6 million into late November, Balduff said. After that, few resources are available to meet participant needs, and these institutions will be forced to go to the communities they serve to fulfill commitments.

Michelle Hinton, communications director for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, said the foodbank is still working to completely understand what the shutdown means to them, though the implications are worrisome.

“We really want to express concern if it’s shut down much longer,” she said. “I think one of the biggest concerns are participants in the WIC program. Those individuals are women with children, and they’re going to start relying on food pantries and hot meal sites.”

The Akron-Canton Foodbank is one of many nonprofit organizations in Ohio concerned about what this means for those who rely on their services. It’s heavily dependent upon donations and community involvement in order to provide necessities to member agencies in eight counties throughout northeast Ohio.

While benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, won’t be immediately affected by the shutdown, representatives from Ohio food banks are concerned what a long-term shutdown would mean for Ohio families in need.

Volunteers at Kent Social Services said they are unsure of how the shutdown will affect their routine in the short-term but said the longer at-risk families are deprived of government assistance, the more strain is put on the shelter in the long run.

Hinton said another concern is the shelf-stable commodities given to the foodbank by the USDA, which are set to expire once their current inventory has been utilized.

“Obviously, the best scenario right now is for the government to open back as soon as possible,” she said. “If this shutdown continues into the month of November, it’s going to be a serious strain on our operations.”

Contact Christina Suttles at [email protected].