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Hunger and the Government Shutdown

January 20, 2019

The protracted government shutdown has caused hardship for many Americans. Government employees are dipping into savings or racking up debt as they struggle without paychecks. The IRS is significantly depleted; meaning refunds may not reach people who need them. Small businesses fail to get loans to stay afloat or grow. Even many of our national parks have closed. Trash has built up on the National Mall and at other national treasures.
The shutdown harms our economy and cripples government. More important, however, is how it can affect our most vulnerable neighbors. Those who face food insecurity may soon experience a frightening situation. SNAP, the program that provides federal food benefits to lower-income families, is likely to be unavailable starting in March if the shutdown continues.
The Vermont Foodbank distributes millions of pounds of food each year to Vermonters in need. As a Board member, I care deeply about addressing hunger and creating better social structures to alleviate it. The Foodbank’s programs include Veggie VanGo and other hospital collaborations to make fresh food more broadly available in communities throughout Vermont.
At the Foodbank and as health care advocates, we understand the importance of nutritious food to the health of Vermonters. Proper nourishment is a key social determinant of health—when a family cannot afford proper food, their health can suffer. Kids’ ability to learn is imperiled. People are less able to heal from medical conditions.
Unfortunately, the Foodbank is “already seeing an increase in demand for food assistance from families and individuals who are experiencing hardship due to the shutdown. We anticipate further need as furloughed federal employees and contractors miss paychecks, and the impact on household budgets could continue for many months after the loss of funds,” according to a recent Foodbank statement.
We applaud all that 3SquaresVT (our state’s name for SNAP) has done during the shutdown to ensure that beneficiaries are covered though February.
Along with the Foodbank and other community partners, our hospitals and health systems are working to combat food insecurity. Our shared success with the all-payer model will require careful attention to social determinants including food insecurity.   
For those who do not have enough nutritious food to eat during the shutdown—whether because needed benefits are unavailable or furloughed government employees are missing paychecks—the Vermont Foodbank can help. Its network of food shelves and meal sites throughout the state welcome those who have been affected by the shutdown. For more information, read a one-pager the Foodbank created in partnership with Hunger Free Vermont and the Department for Children and Families.
Anyone in need of assistance can find their local food shelf using this map, and I encourage you to share the link on your own hospital or organization’s website: https://www.vtfoodbank.org/agency-locator

Jeff Tieman, VAHHS CEO