Cathy Kanefsky is president and CEO of the Food Bank of Delaware.
As we wind down September’s Hunger Action Month, attention is on Washington, D.C., and the looming deadline Saturday to avert a government shutdown.
With the clock ticking toward that day, there’s more than just anxiety in the air. For millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Delawareans, there’s a fear of what a government shutdown could mean for their lives. The impact of a shutdown reaches far and wide, but it hits hardest for those who can least afford it, like those who are food insecure.
It’s a worrisome illustration of how political disputes can quickly turn into real-life crises for millions. These citizens are not bargaining chips in a political game. They are our neighbors, our fellow Americans.
Here in Delaware, 1 in 10 Delawareans are considered food insecure, but close to 34% of Delawareans qualify for social services through the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. Most of these services are funded through the federal government.
As I write this, elected leaders in Washington are working on a short-term deal that could fund the government through Nov. 17. A short-term stopgap buys time for negotiations, but a long-term deal that protects American families, children, veterans and farmers is what’s needed.
At the heart of a potential shutdown is the disruption to critical programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps. Last year, Delawareans received more than $323.49 million in food benefits. These benefits enable families to select and purchase the food best suited for their households. Last year, SNAP benefits infused approximately $484.5 million directly into our economy.
When the government grinds to a halt, so may some of these benefits that families rely on to put food on their tables. WIC benefits will likely stop soon after if the government shuts down Sunday. Here in Delaware, 20,313 women, infants and children will be impacted. That means limited resources for nutritious food and baby formula.
SNAP benefits will be fully funded for the month of October, but if a prolonged shutdown takes place, more than 100,000 Delaware households may not receive their food benefits come November.
When government programs falter, the nonprofit sector, and food banks in particular, step in to fill the void.
The Food Bank of Delaware cannot fill the void if a government shutdown is prolonged. Last year, food donations were down by more than 2.5 million pounds. As a result, we spent more than $4 million on food — the most in any year in the history of our organization — so we can continue to provide our partner agencies with food at no cost and meet our community’s high needs for food assistance.
A prolonged government shutdown will be catastrophic.
As we approach this critical deadline, our political officials must prioritize the basic needs of constituents. Food insecurity should not be exacerbated by dysfunction in D.C. It’s time for our leaders to come together, find common ground and ensure that the social safety net remains intact, no matter the political climate. We must prevent this impending crisis from becoming a reality.
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