PHOENIX – If Congress doesn’t come to a spending agreement this weekend, the federal government will shut down on Sunday, Oct. 1.
The shutdown would force millions of federal workers and military service members to go without pay, and many federal services like passport offices and national parks could close.
People who depend on federally funded nutrition programs to pay for groceries were alarmed when U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned, during a press conference this week, that nearly 7 million Americans, mainly women and children, would suffer from a rapid loss of food benefits in a shutdown.
But Arizonans won’t lose those benefits, at least not yet. Tasya Peterson, press secretary for the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), says the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which benefits over 900,000 Arizonans, will remain untouched throughout the month of October.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service has instructed states to issue SNAP benefits in October as per our standard process, having identified a funding mechanism in the event of a government shutdown,” Peterson wrote in an email responding to a query from Cronkite News.
Arizona families can also continue to count on benefits from the WIC program (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. WIC serves almost 135,000 women, infants and children in Arizona, according to ADHS.
Even so, local food shelters such as the West Valley Community Food Pantry in Glendale, which is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon, expect to see more people needing food assistance.
June Kelsey, the executive director of the pantry, says they are expecting a surge in food recipients as the government shuts down.
“We’ve been hitting between 70 and 80 families a day. And we serve the homeless as well,” Kelsey said. “I can see our numbers going up quickly. So many people are without jobs already. So this is only going to add to it.”
Relying solely on the community, Kelsey says they are already short on donations and are worried about the outcome of the shutdown.
“We just really need donations,” Kelsey said. “They (donors) can bring the food here or write us a check would be helpful.”
In order to ration for everybody, those who benefit from the pantry can only visit twice a month. The pantry gives to all families, no matter how big or small, enough food to last up to three days. Kelsey wishes they could do more.
“It’s not enough. However, I think they know where the other food pantries are. So they go to them and we all do what we can to help.”