At the time of publishing this article, the government shutdown has dragged on long enough to get itself named the longest in history. Here, we share how the shutdown is impacting a few of the policy areas that we at FoodCorps track closely. We also recognize that while this shutdown is causing 800,000 federal workers to go without pay—many of whom live paycheck to paycheck—it is also putting strain on the communities we serve and showing up in ways big and small across the country. For example, the New York Times recently covered how the shutdown is having a negative impact in indigenous communities.
Basics: What’s a Government Shutdown?
To keep federal agencies running, Congress passes spending bills that divvy up slices of the proverbial pie (our tax dollars). When Congress fails to pass spending bills, a shutdown happens. Right now, we’re in a “partial” shutdown, because Congress has passed spending bills that provide funding for approximately 75% of the federal government. Which means that many government agencies are open, including (importantly for FoodCorps) the Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs AmeriCorps. During federal government shutdowns, some activities of those shuttered agencies remain in operation because they are considered vital for health or safety—for example, Transportation Security Administration staff show up to provide security in airports even though they are not being paid.
If this shutdown drags on for weeks or (and let’s hope it doesn’t come to this) even months longer, there is a possibility that families served by these programs could suffer negative consequences.
Impact on Food and Nutrition Policy
Unfortunately, Congress did not pass the spending bill that covers agriculture funding, which means that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not currently operating. However, the nutrition assistance programs operated by the USDA, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and school meals, are not impacted due to this lapse in funding—at least for the moment.
If this shutdown drags on for weeks or (and let’s hope it doesn’t come to this) even months longer, there is a possibility that families served by these programs could suffer negative consequences. For SNAP, the USDA initially announced that they had funding to cover benefits for January, but they wouldn’t respond to inquiries about funding for February. After much media and advocate attention to the uncertainty for February benefits, the USDA then announced a plan that would enable SNAP participants to access benefits in February. However, advocates remain concerned about the impact on families if the shutdown drags into March.
As for school meals, the federal government reimburses schools for the meals they serve to students, but those payments operate on a one month delay. Because of this lag time, the impact of the shutdown on schools and students is delayed. According to the USDA, school meal programs should be unaffected through March. If the shutdown persists after that, the impact is unclear. This would be an unprecedented situation as no prior government shutdown has lasted that long. We will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates to share with our sites and partners if the shutdown persists.