Montana’s most vulnerable in the cross hairs of government shutdown

Posted at 3:59 PM, Jan 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-09 18:24:46-05

MISSOULA – More than 38 million Americans are on food stamps and the impacts from the partial federal government shutdown have the potential to hit these people where it hurts the most – their health, and their wallets.

Roughly 114,000 Montanans are considered food insecure, many relying on government programs like SNAP to help buy groceries. The Department of Agriculture is releasing a plan to ensure low-income Americans have access toSNAP benefits — formerly known as food stamps.

The plan only funds the program through February with the department relying on emergency funds, but with uncertainty surrounding how long the shutdown will last, the people in charge of feeding the hungry have growing concerns.

Those cuts have a trickle-down effect and once SNAP funds are depleted Missoula Food Bank Executive Director Aaron Brock says it puts a lot of pressure on local food banks.

“Eight-thousand separate households came to the food bank at least one time to get groceries here in this community and that’s a huge number – like more than 25,000 separate individuals,” Brock said.

“The reality is SNAP is serving more than that. And if SNAP were to go away, there would be immediate devastating impacts for thousands for our neighbors,” he added.

Brock also told MTN News that the Missoula Food Bank would not be equipped if this scenario becomes a reality.

Other food programs could also be in danger if the government shutdown is prolonged.

According to the USDA, The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or (WIC,) is not receiving federal funds at all during the shutdown, but “can continue to operate at the State and local level with any funding and commodity resources that remain available.”

WIC is another resource many rely on for groceries.

“One program is not all a family needs to get through the month,” said Kate Devino with the Missoula City-County Health Department. “They are supplemental. Often time’s families are able to supplement their WIC benefits with SNAP dollars and buy those food items that they don’t get with WIC with SNAP.”

Although food assistance programs have not felt the effects from the government shutdown yet, Montana Food Bank Network CEO Gayle Carlson said the impacts could be seen in the future.

“Of course, this happened through the holiday – which is probably the worst time it could possibly happen,” Carlson said. “I think we are going to see — and typically it takes about six months — at least from our perspective, to have some recovery efforts and this is just kind of judging it from natural disaster and other incidents where people will have gone without pay for a period of time.”

There is no end in sight to the government shutdown, so food assistance programs are planning for multiple scenarios knowing this could impact thousands of Montana livelihoods with each passing day.

The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that more than 68% of SNAP participants in 2017 were in families with children, and more than 44% were in working families.

Reporting by Kent Luetzen for MTN News