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Ongoing Shutdown Strains Wash. Food Banks

Food banks in Washington state are filling the gap for everyone from federal employees to small business owners in communities outside national parks. (Paul Joseph Brown/Northwest Harvest)
Food banks in Washington state are filling the gap for everyone from federal employees to small business owners in communities outside national parks. (Paul Joseph Brown/Northwest Harvest)
January 25, 2019

SEATTLE – Food banks across the state are feeling the stress as the government shutdown brings more people through their doors.

Thomas Reynolds is the CEO of Northwest Harvest, which distributes to a network of 375 food banks statewide. As an example of the strain, he notes the White Center Food Bank in King County typically sees about 10 new families a month. Since the shutdown started, they're seeing 20 new families a day.

Reynolds adds the shutdown isn't only affecting federal employees. Workers that contract with the government aren't being paid, and communities that rely on places such as national parks are feeling the pain, too.

"The Ashford Valley Grocery, for instance, is losing about $1,000 every weekend day as long as Mount Rainier is shut down,” says Reynolds. “For the small business owners that are impacted by the shutdown, they're never going to see this money back. This is just a permanent lost opportunity."

On Thursday, Governor Jay Inslee announced the state would extend unemployment benefits to about 8,000 federal employees still working because they're deemed essential, such as Coast Guard and airport security. Previously, only about 8,000 furloughed workers during the shutdown had been eligible for unemployment.

A larger hunger issue is looming. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is funded through February, but benefits came early this week, meaning they'll have to last until March.

Reynolds says his organization calculated the cost if SNAP isn't distributed for a month – $110 million hole in resources for nearly 930,000 Washingtonians. In that case, Reynolds says food becomes the next casualty in tight family budgets.

"The choices are pay rent or become delinquent on rent, pay medical bills or pay for food,” says Reynolds. “And we often see that when people are faced with financial choices, they scrimp on food, which has a devastating effect on all people, and especially so on children."

Reynolds adds many federal workers volunteer and donate to food banks, but the shutdown is showing that even charitable people fall on hard times.

"We need to make sure that our society is reflective of the fact that sometimes people are in a position to give, and sometimes people are in a position where they need to receive,” says Reynolds.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA