2019 Government Shutdown Operations FAQ

What does the end of the government shutdown mean for food banks and food pantries?

Updated January 29, 2019

The longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history ended on January 25, 2019 when Congress passed and the President signed into law a Continuing Resolution funding the government through February 15, 2019. Despite the end of the shutdown, thousands of federal workers and contractors are still facing a temporary need for food assistance and millions of SNAP recipients face a longer-than-usual gap before receiving March benefits. Many food banks and food pantries nationwide want to know: what will this mean for those we are serving, for those who rely on federal food assistance programs, and for those that work for the federal government or are federal contractors.

We looked at these questions and more below.

What type of impact is expected on my food bank or pantry?

Even with the shutdown ending, we anticipate several areas of potential impact for food assistance and other direct service nonprofits:

  1. Increased demand for assistance from furloughed government workers or contractors; while federal workers are expected to receive backpay by early February, the over 1 million federal contractors will not.
  2. A challenge for the more than 38 million SNAP recipients who face a gap of 40-55 days between the early issuance of February SNAP benefits by January 20th and the start of March benefit disbursement on March 1.

What does the end of the shutdown mean for impacted federal employees or contractors that come to us for help?

We know that food banks are seeing an increase in demand from furloughed federal workers or contractors that are in need of food assistance. Many food banks and food pantries are opening their doors to help furloughed federal workers and other individuals impacted by the shutdown who need assistance. They are providing emergency food distributions, as well as helping federal workers and contractors to apply for federal programs they may qualify for, like SNAP, WIC, and school meals.

Furloughed government workers and contractors that currently meet state income criteria can also receive food distributed through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). We are recommending that for TEFAP, food banks certify federal workers or contractors as eligible for the month of January if they meet the income eligibility criteria without their federal pay. Since they will not have received backpay for their missed pay in January, they are able to accurately declare zero income from their federal employment for that month. Food banks should contact their state agency with any specific questions about eligibility criteria and follow current state income guidelines for the program.

Federal employees are eligible to receive charitable assistance from nonprofit organizations, including assistance meeting food, household, or other needs that arise during the shutdown and after.

There has been confusion around what federal employees are able to receive as assistance during a shutdown and after. Although there are rules that prohibit federal employees from accepting gifts from the general public while they are completing official duties related to their federal employment, federal workers and contractors are allowed to seek and receive charitable assistance from nonprofits and other organizations providing assistance to community members.

Furloughed employees and contractors who fit eligibility criteria and applied for SNAP, WIC, and school meals during the shutdown do not need to repay any assistance they received. Federal workers and contractors should update their income information in accordance with each program’s standard reporting guidelines for changes to household income and circumstances related to eligibility. Reach out to your state agency for program specific requirements.

Furloughed employees and contractors who applied for unemployment benefits during the shutdown may need to repay them once they receive backpay from the federal paychecks missed. According to this resource from the federal Office of Personnel Management, if backpay is provided to employees after the shutdown ends, any unemployment benefits provided would need to be repaid. Government workers that are considered an essential employee and reported to work during the shutdown were not eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.  Federal contractors that applied for unemployment are not expected to receive backpay and thus are not expected to repay unemployment benefits.

What does the partial government shutdown mean for those that my food bank or food pantry is serving right now, particularly those that participate in federal nutrition programs?

Most importantly: federal nutrition programs should continue to be fully funded and operational for February and March, and likely through April.

SNAP benefits for February were issued in full earlier than expected, by January 20; no additional SNAP benefits will be issued in February. USDA funding for March SNAP benefits is secure now that the federal government has reopened. Households will still need to carefully budget their grocery purchases due to the early issues of February benefits. It will be at least 40 days – and longer in many states – before any additional SNAP benefits are issued. This will present challenges in late February and into March for millions of SNAP households.

WIC benefits will be issued through the month of February and March; WIC clinics are still open as well.

Child nutrition programs are funded through March. This includes school breakfast and lunch, and afterschool meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

What happens if there is another government shutdown after February 15th? Will federal nutrition programs like SNAP or WIC be funded after March? Will food banks be able to make up for the shortfall in funding if they are not?

Should the federal government shut down after February 15, USDA should be able to ensure federal nutrition programs continue to be fully funded and operational through March. In addition, USDA could likely use the same provision that allowed the early issuance of SNAP February benefits to issue full April SNAP benefits early (by March 17); and possibly use that same mechanism to fund additional programs.

 

While food banks and food pantries will do all they can to assist federal workers and those facing food insecurity in the event of a lengthy government shutdown, the charitable food system is not able to provide near the amount of food assistance that federal nutrition programs like SNAP, WIC, and child nutrition programs provide. For every meal provided by the Feeding America network, SNAP provides 12. A lapse in funding for federal nutrition programs would mean millions of families, children, and seniors going hungry.

What does the end of the shutdown mean for my food bank or food pantry operations?

With the end of the shutdown, states should receive funding for federal food distribution programs, like The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides USDA foods through food banks, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which provides monthly USDA food boxes to low-income seniors, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), which provides USDA food distributions to tribal communities. All delayed storage and distribution funding and administrative resources should be provided quickly once federal funds are received by the states. Ask your state for further information.

TEFAP and CSFP food orders will be delivered through March. With the end of the shutdown, new orders for TEFAP and CSFP foods can be placed. As USDA staff return to work, communication will be provided to states and food banks on the next steps to order foods, as well as receive administrative funds delayed during the shutdown.

States will receive the funds missing from USDA for December 22 through February 15 for the cost to store and distribute TEFAP and CSFP. Talk to your state agency to learn what the process needs to be to submit reimbursement for any funds missed during the shutdown.

USDA Trade Mitigation and USDA Section 32 Bonus Commodities orders have continued during the shutdown at a slower pace given the reduced staffing. USDA staff are expected to move forward with additional food purchases once staff are back at work, including plans to distribute the $50 million in storage and distribution grants that is tied to Phases 2-4 of trade mitigation food purchases.

FDPIR orders are expected to be delivered for February and March, and additional orders can be placed. Tribes should also receive full administrative funds, including reimbursement retroactively for any not covered during the shutdown.

Feeding America will continue our commitment to addressing hunger during this challenging time to ensure those struggling are able to put food on the table. To find out what the impact is to individuals, you can visit our blog post here. If you have any questions, please reach out to the Feeding America Government Relations team at [email protected].