As the government shutdown continues, possible cuts in funding for benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, has food banks preparing for an increase in demand.
Maribeth Phillips, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee, said they are waiting to see what happens with the food stamp program. Should the program not be funded beyond February, she expects they will be “flooded” with families needing food.
Until then, it’s a matter of waiting.
“We’re very concerned about this and just watching and waiting to see what’s going to happen,” Phillips said.
The Food Bank of Manatee, owned and operated by Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee, was founded in 1985 and is the largest hunger-relief agency in the county.
In 2018, the Food Bank of Manatee distributed 4 million pounds of food to those in need through more than 100 partner agencies and pantries.
One of those partner pantries is Hungers End Manatee. Carl Snyder, president of the organization, said they feed about 600 people a month and said until they see what happens with SNAP, it’s going to be hard to see whether they will experience an increase in demand.
“I imagine if they have issues, we would have a lot more people coming,” Snyder said.
The food insecurity rate in Manatee County for 2016, the most recent year numbers were available, was more than 13 percent, according to Feeding America.
As of a 2015 report from the United Way, 43 percent of Manatee County is at the Federal Poverty Level or above poverty level, but do not meet the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) threshold to meet the costs to survive.
This is the population Phillips said their organization serves, and she said if SNAP benefits don’t come through for March, they’ll expect more demand for food assistance.
More than 9 percent of Manatee County households rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to feed their families, according Meals On Wheels Plus. With the partial government shutdown, those benefits are in place through February, but without allocation of additional funds, they may not be in March.
On Jan. 8, the USDA announced a plan to that would provide full benefits for SNAP for February.
The Florida Department of Children and Families posted to its Facebook page on Monday that customers will receive their February benefits on Jan. 20 and no additional deposits will be made in February.
The USDA worked with states to issue the benefits earlier than usual for February.
In Florida, those who receive SNAP through the Department of Children and Families would normally get those benefits in the first 10 days of February.
There are 2.9 million Floridians who receive federal food assistance.
Child nutrition programs such as school meals and after-school programs have funding to continue operations through March, according to the USDA. Funding from the prior year will also start being given to states to facilitate February benefits for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
At the Hope Center at the Church of Hope in Palmetto, Lenworth Gordon, the director of the food pantry, said they prayed about SNAP funding and the shutdown before their food distribution this week.
He, too, thinks if the shutdown continues, their pantry will see the impact.
“I think it will affect us because there’s got to be some government employees in our community that are going to be furloughed or not receiving checks,” Gordon said.
Should SNAP not be funded through March or beyond, local food banks and pantries may see an increase in people coming to them for help to feed themselves and their families.
“The critical thing is that there is a need in Manatee County and that the Food Bank of Manatee is the largest hunger-relief organization in the county and we anticipate to see a flood of additional demand on pantries and agencies if food stamps are not renewed,” Phillips said.
With the increase in people, the pantries and food banks will need more food to give the those in need.
“We are certainly going to be reaching out to the community and asking the community to help us to make sure we have food for those who need it,” Phillips said. “We need the community to rally and help us to make sure we get food out.”
Officials at Our Daily Bread, a food bank in Bradenton, said they would be ready, too, if the need for food increased because of a lack of SNAP funding.
The Hope Center pantry, Gordon said, has some allocations for emergency boxes that they set aside for those who need something immediately.
Feeding Florida, the state’s largest food bank network, told the Miami Herald it is confident that the community will rally to make sure the food banks are able to provide help for anyone who needs it.