The government shutdown is intensifying food insecurity in PA
PA and Philadelphia leaders gathered on Monday to denounce the record-breaking government shutdown and its effects on vital programs like SNAP, which is now seeing an influx of unpaid federal workers.
Monday afternoon, U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and a host of other city, state and labor leaders stood in defiance of the now record 24-day government shutdown. Their focus, while speaking from Philabundance’s South Philadelphia warehouse, was the potential stoppage of supplemental food programs and their adverse effects on those who experience food insecurity and government workers now without pay.
For Sen. Casey, these individuals are being held “hostage” by the shutdown.
“They don’t have the luxury of playing a cynical, political appropriations game like some are playing in Washington,” he said.
The main supplemental food program discussed was SNAP. Also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it provided food for roughly 40 million Americans in 2018, including 1.8 million in Pennsylvania. Of the state’s 1.8 million people enrolled in the program, close to half a million are from Philadelphia county.
“It is almost inconceivable that with this much at risk, that there would be any threat to essential programs like SNAP,” said City Councilwoman Helen Gym.
Despite the shutdown, Pennsylvania will maintain SNAP benefits through February. However, those benefits will be paid early on Jan. 19, meaning the funds must last until March - when either the shutdown has ended, or another compromise is reached.
Adding to the already massive strain on SNAP is a wave of federal employees who were furloughed, or are working without pay. Mayor Kenney rued the situation of these workers.
“No one should have to show up to work, and still not know when they’re receiving their paychecks,” he said.
There are more than 800,000 federal employees across the U.S. either furloughed or working without pay, 14 percent of whom make less than $50,000 a year. In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 12,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown.
As vice president of region 7 for the American Federation of Government Employees labor union, Joe Shuker is contending with the impact the government shutdown has had on the over 11,000 federal employees he represents in the area.
“I arrived at Congresswoman [Scanlon’s] office on Friday pretty much in a panic without any real plan,” Shuker said.
He also noted the many families he’s encountered where both spouses are federally-employed and have no income.
One of those families is that of Alex J. Berman, executive vice president of the National Treasury Employees Union. The shutdown scenario has proven to be a reversal of roles, as Berman and his colleagues now find themselves dependent on the very drives and charities they used to organize and support.
“We do not want this help as great as it can be,” said Berman. “We want to go back to the business of helping our fellow American.”
Philabundance is just one of the many organizations partnering with unions such as those Shuker and Berman represent to ensure that unpaid federal employees still have access to food. Its executive director Glenn Bergman acknowledged the insurmountable nature of the situation given the shutdown, but urged those in need to find food through the organization’s website, and invited those with the means to do so to donate to their efforts.