Government Shutdown: Unpaid Federal Workers Are Now Turning to Food Banks to Feed Families

As the government shutdown enters its 27th day, government workers across the country have turned to food banks for help in feeding their families.

Federal employees are losing out on some $200 million every work day, according to a report published by The New York Times Wednesday. That means the 800,000 affected workers have on average missed more than $5,000 in pay as the shutdown rolls into its fourth week.

For employees living paycheck to paycheck, this presents an impossible financial strain. Local news stations, from Chicago to Tampa to San Francisco, said federal workers had reached out to charities for support.

"We had some folks reach out to us on social media and that really started up after that first paycheck was not received," Charla Irwin-Buncher with the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank told local CBS affiliate KDKA Tuesday. "If we can help out by providing some supplemental assistance to help stretch those dollars that might be in the savings account a little bit further so hopefully folks don't have to pay for groceries on a credit card."

The Catholic Community Services of Northern Utah worried that supplies would start to dwindle if the shutdown lasted much longer. "We might have to make the amount of the food baskets smaller if it continues, but our doors will stay open," Deborah Nielsen, the program's coordinator and case manager, told CNN Wednesday.

On Saturday, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank in California expected to help hundreds of U.S. Coast Guard workers and their families, KQED reported. As well as providing groceries, the organization planned to enroll them in the Calfresh food stamp program.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Human Services Agency announced Tuesday that February's Calfresh benefits would come early to help workers affected by the shutdown.

Please RT! Due to the #GovernmentShutdown, February’s Calfresh benefits will be coming early. Benefits you would normally get in February will be uploaded to EBT cards on January 16th. This is not an error or bonus! Please budget your benefits accordingly:

— San Francisco Human Services Agency (@SFHumanServices) January 15, 2019

In the capital, workers have been using food banks since at least last Saturday, when the Capital Area Food Bank offered its first weekly distribution for federal workers. CEO Radha Muthiah told Newsweek the group distributed some 30,000 lbs of produce on the city, as well as 3,000 boxes of pantry staples like canned beans.

In scenes repeated across the country, some 2,200 federal workers waited in the cold Saturday morning to collect donated groceries from pop-up banks set up by the charity.

"I need the extra help right now," Pamela Leftrict, a policy analyst with the Environmental Protection Agency told the Capital Area Food Bank Friday. "This is a scary time for me, especially because I have a child at home."

Although she was helping to prepare groceries for distribution, the federal employee said she would be collecting produce for herself the next day. "Volunteering makes me feel like I'm contributing, like I'm giving something back for what I receive."

The charity wants to keep the distributions up until the shutdown is over. Muthiah said it's creating "a real crisis of identity" for some people seeking help. "A few of the people we spoke with at last week's pop-up distribution said 'I've run food drives for you at my agency for you for years. I never could have imagined I'd be the one in line needing food.'"

"This shutdown is highlighting how many people, even those with steady jobs, are just a paycheck or two away from facing economic hardship."

This article has been updated with comment from Radha Muthiah.

Government Shutdown, Food Banks, Federal Employees, Charity, Missed Pay
Federal workers stand in line for a free hot meal at Andres in Washington, D.C., on January 16, as the restaurant provided ready-to-eat meals for federal workers' families furloughed by the U.S. government shutdown. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images