Concerns shutdown may impact food assistance

People who receive federal assistance to buy food are worried about how the partial government shutdown will impact their benefits.

“Very concerned, very concerned, not only for myself but again for families that have children,” said Stella Hill, an Orlando resident who’s part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Because of the shutdown, people who receive food stamps got their February funds about 10 days earlier than normal. If the stalemate in Washington drags on, experts say it’s unclear whether they’ll get any benefits at all in March.

”I think that for families living on the margins, any type of disruption in their daily life --  even small ones --  can be monumentally impactful,” said Eric Gray, Executive Director of United Against Poverty Orlando.

The nonprofit has a membership grocery store in Orlando. Gray says about 20 percent of the people who shop there are in the SNAP program.

He says uncertainty with the federal assistance is causing people to change how they shop. The organization says a lot of people aren’t buying fresh produce right now – instead they’re stocking up on canned goods.

“We’ve started increasing the accessibility to those shelf-stable items, as people are more apt to spend their limited resources on something that they know will last a little bit longer,” said Carla Cox, also with United Against Poverty Orlando.

But the group is also worried other people may not be planning ahead and will run out of food before the end of February, since the benefits came in early.  Hill calls the whole situation pitiful.

“It shows that they don’t care. That the politicians don’t care,” she said.

United Against Poverty Orlando says they’re also seeing furloughed federal workers seek memberships at their grocery store to get a discount on the food.