Potential crisis of food insecurity arose due to frozen federal funds, missed paychecks
In response to the shutdown of the federal government, both local and federal programs dealing with food insecurity were modified in order to provide support to beneficiaries. The Yolo Food Bank hosted a weekly special food distribution for federal employees starting on Jan. 12. Additionally, CalFresh benefits for the month of February were issued early due to a freeze on federal Funds that began on Jan. 20.
The government shutdown started on Dec. 22, 2018 and ended on January 25, 2019. It was the longest shutdown in US history, surpassing the 21-day shutdown in the 1990’s. As a result, as many as 800,000 federal employees didn’t receive their paychecks. California has 250,000 federal employees — the most of any U.S. state. In particular, there is a USDA office based in Davis and other federal offices throughout Yolo County.
As a response to the government shutdown, the Yolo Food Bank offered a special distribution service to federal employees. Every Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., federal employees with an ID were able to take up to 30 pounds of food.
“We became aware of a need in the community,” said Joy Cohan, YFB’s director of philanthropic engagement. “Not only do a lot of federal workers live in Yolo County, but there are a lot of federal jobs in the county related to USDA, which of course has a location in Davis, as well as other locations throughout the county. This is contingent of the federal workers in the Winters area, for instance, as well.”
The first Friday of the food distribution took place on Jan 12. Cohan noted that there were about 40 federal employees that were present to receive food.
“We didn’t know what to expect so that was pretty amazing that we served 40 people,” Cohan said. “Because this is a special distribution where we count the food that each employee is able to take, it’s a little different from our usual distribution. We do ask for ID, which identifies them as a federal employee.”
Food recipients had to be Yolo County residents — either permanently or temporarily — even if their job location wasn’t in Yolo County. Cohan said that while food donations are always welcome by interested parties, cash donations have more flexibility.
“One of the things that really sets us apart from other food sources for the food insecure in the county is that we are offering nutritious fresh produce, dairy products, meat and other perishables,” Cohan said. “The only way we can do that efficiently and effectively is by having the resources to have access to those foods. Cash really gives us the greatest flexibility to do that.”
The YFB strives to help people who are facing short term crises. These people included the recently unemployed or federal workers who weren’t getting paid during the shutdown.
Additionally, due to the government shutdown, CalFresh funds were issued early for the month of February. On Jan. 14, the California Department of Social Services released a statement saying that the reason for the early issuance was due to the lack of future access to federal funds.
CalFresh is California’s iteration of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It provides monthly food benefits for low income and food insecure individuals. Around four million residents in the state of California are eligible to apply for benefits.
“Because of available federal funds, we’d have to issue an early issuance in order to access our CalFresh benefits for the month of February,” said Michael Weston, the deputy director of CDSS. “The early issuance was necessary to access federal funds because those funds would no longer be available after Jan 20th — that’s what we were told by the government.”
CalFresh recipient and second-year computer science major Mirthala Lopez was more careful with her food budget in January.
“I realized that if there isn’t going to be a balance from March, then I might as well be careful with regards to how much I spend for the month,” Lopez said. “[$200] is a good amount but I don’t really know […] and until I know, I have to be cautious.”
Written by: Hannan Waliullah — email@example.com