The country recently resurfaced from the government shutdown over President Trump’s “non-negotiable” $5.7 billion to build a security wall at the Mexican border. The government shutdown effected our food supply by allowing for unsafe food to hit the market and for food to simply become inaccessible for federal workers. Both consequences led to public health concerns.
The 35-day long shutdown impacted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the Food and Drug Administration, by eliminating funding needed to support routine checks and compliance activities. For example, no one was watching out for food borne illnesses or screening imported food. Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees meat, poultry and processed egg products. Therefore, that department still monitored those products under partial funding. Still, their operations were slowed down enough to need help from states’ agriculture departments. Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, a.k.a food stamps) and child nutrition programs still had funding to get through February.
Despite the gaps in food processing, our city of Atlanta had 16,000 federal workers trying to eat without their normal pay. Regardless of whether or not available food was clean, these employees lacked the financial resources to buy it. Non-traditional methods were helpful in mitigating the food shortage and reliability issues during the shutdown.
In Atlanta, and across the country, food banks and food pantries stepped up to feed federal workers. According to Feeding America, these entities incorporated different tactics to make sure federal workers were fed, such as connecting federal works with emergency food resources, creating mobile pantries, and extending hours of operation. These additional services were necessary as search results about finding food resources increased over 300% compared to last January. The Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) typically serves more than 61 million meals every year, so their capacity for feeding the needy was crucial to meet the needs of federal workers in metro Atlanta who were furloughed or working without pay. One of their efforts included handing out free food near the TSA’s Atlanta office at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Volunteers from Delta Air Lines and the Antioch Baptist Church North helped distribute food to reach ACFB’s goal of serving more than 1,000 families of federal workers. The food bank brought two trailers with 40,000 pounds of vegetables and frozen chicken to give away. ACFB responded to the government shutdown as if it were a natural disaster by setting up a web page to connect affected workers with local food pantries and assistance.
Congress has successfully avoided another shutdown on February 16, 2019. Although at the cost of President Trump declaring a national emergency instead to get funding for his wall. Besides the above effects on food, the five-week partial shutdown had massive impacts, such as $18 billion which will now be unavailable for compensation and purchasing of goods and services; private-sector entities not being able to recoup lost incomes; and a reduction in gross domestic product. In addition to needing to do right and feed everyone, these effects should be enough of an incentive to avoid another government shutdown.