BROWNING – As the government shutdown enters day 31, people across the country are feeling the burden.
“We service roughly a little over 665 individuals and families a month,” Blackfeet Food Distribution Program Director Roy Crawford said.
But those on the reservations are really seeing the effects of what has been the longest shutdown in history.
“With the government shutdown continuing, we are anticipating numbers to increase and to meet those needs of the people, we can operate full function for the next few months if this thing continues,” Crawford said.
And with more people to feed, the commodity program needs more food to fill their shelves.
“We did run into a shortage of food because there was a lot of questions that needed to be answered on the national level. Is the flow of commodities going to be there? Is the inventory going to be there? And as time went by those questions were answered,” Crawford said.
In fact, Crawford said within the first 10 days of the shutdown, the program needed to dip into the emergency funds.
“Part of the USDA regulations, we are required to have two-three months of emergency stock on hand and we actually dipped into that until our replenishment came in. I was a little nervous about that. It got a little scary. We weren’t sure what was going to happen,” Crawford said.
Crawford tells us the commodity program typically receives 30,000 pounds of food a month. Since the government shutdown, they’ve had to ask for 13,000 more pounds two weeks ago to fill their aisles and freezers.
“What I’ve told my employees at the food distribution program is no matter what goes on at the national level, the presidential level, the legislative level, that’s why we elected those leaders to hash out those problems. When it trickles all the way down to us our focus is getting the food in to feed the people. And right now that’s our focus,” Crawford said.
As the possibility of a deal going through on a national level, Crawford said it will still take time for the reservation to bounce back.
“If the government shutdown ended today, it’s still going to take a few weeks to catch up. People still have to get back to work, the pay cycles have to catch up. And then there’s the question of retro pay and things of that nature. The impact will be felt probably for another thirty days to actually get back to normal,” Crawford said.
Crawford said the program has enough funds and supplies to last until March. If the shutdown goes that long, they will need a plan B.
“One of the things we always have to remember, no matter what happens, I will always make sure that this program is open and we meet the needs of the people as long as they qualify,” Crawford said.
Reporting by Elizabeth Transue for MTN News