Paige Pihl Buckley, GoLocalWorcester Contributor
Food pantries have been hit especially hard by the government shutdown.
As the government shutdown enters its third week, Central Massachusetts nonprofits are beginning to feel the pinch. Those that aren’t are fearful that a continued shutdown could be a major hit to their resources and, in turn, to their ability to serve families and individuals in need.
“This shutdown and debt ceiling brinkmanship are politically manufactured crises. Tragically, those who are going to be most impacted as it drags on are our most vulnerable citizens, who depend on government assistance programs – VA benefits, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, fuel assistance, reduced price school meals, WIC, SNAP, etc. – to make ends meet,” said Congressman Jim McGovern.
“Virtually every nonprofit in Central Massachusetts is feeling or will soon feel the squeeze. On one hand, they are experiencing a higher demand and drain on existing resources from low-income populations. On the other, resources that come directly or indirectly from the federal government will be drastically reduced or slowed,” he said. “It’s a vicious cycle, and one we don’t have to be caught in if the GOP will let us take a vote that reopens the government, and raises the debt ceiling.”
Local Nonprofits Hit Hard
Politics aside, the very real consequences of the shutdown are hitting some local nonprofits particularly hard.
“I think in our case one of the first programs to go with the shutdown has been the WIC program,” said Gordon Hargrove, Executive Director of Friendly House in Worcester. “This program buys food for babies, formula and other food for infants.”
WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) is a federal assistance program for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and children under 5 years old.
“People have been coming to us for formula and we don’t have very much unfortunately,” said Hargrove. “In turn people will use their money and, because formula is fairly expensive, they’ve been buying that first and then they’ve been having problems paying rent and utilities.”
This has led to increased demand for financial assistance said Hargrove, and lengthening lines at food pantries.
“We’re trying to stock up for Thanksgiving and the holidays but we’ve had to use most of our set aside applies to help folks in the immediate times,” said Hargrove.
End Of The Month Could Bring More Problems
Other organizations have not been hit by the shutdown yet, but worry that if the shutdown is not over before month’s end there will be serious repercussions.
“As of today, none of the funds that support our facility or health benefits have stopped,” said Frances Anthes, President and CEO of the Family Health Center of Worcester, Inc.
“But everybody’s really worried that if it goes on to the end of the month, there’s a problem for lots of different programs,” she said. “Many of the patients that come to the Health Center rely on government programs for something, and many of the patients seem very anxious because people are very afraid that they’re going to lose benefits they need to survive.”
David McMahon, Co-Executive Director of the Dismas House of Massachusetts, Inc. expressed a similar sentiment.
“Currently there has not been enough time for the full federal shutdown to impact our small nonprofit,” he said, “but if it drags on longer we anticipate it will hurt state programs that fund such organizations as ours, so we are hopeful for a resolution soon.”
Hope For Compromise
Tim Garvin, President and CEO of the United Way of Central Massachusetts, said that while his organization has not yet been affects they have been working to help other partner organizations that have.
“We at the United Way are concerned about the continued shutdown,” he said. “We have reached out to those who serve the most basic needs of food to make sure they don’t run out of food. We don’t want anyone to be hungry. Should we hear from our partner agencies, if they are struggling, we will provide assistance where we can.”
Garvin also noted several developments, which he said we reasons to be optimistic. He said that late Friday night his office received word from United Way Worldwide that their federal emergency food and shelter funding would grow in the coming fiscal year. He also said he had received assurances from the USDA that current funding would last through the end of the fiscal year.
“We do remain aware and fearful,” Garvin said, “but we are also hopeful. There are good people in Congress that are going to work to resolve this. I’m optimistic that they’ll always do the American thing and help our neighbors in need.”