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The Shutdown Is Causing A Man-Made Hunger Crisis 

In this Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019 photo, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard arranges donated canned goods at a pop-up food pantry at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., that was set up by several Coast Guard-related advocacy groups. (Susan Haigh/AP)
In this Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019 photo, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard arranges donated canned goods at a pop-up food pantry at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., that was set up by several Coast Guard-related advocacy groups. (Susan Haigh/AP)

During what is now the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, funding for federal nutrition programs is drying up. The health and well-being of 42 million individuals who rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — and hundreds of thousands more furloughed employees now struggling to live without a paycheck — are at unnecessary risk.

Unless a compromise is reached to re-open the federal government, 769,912 Massachusetts residents who rely on federal food assistance to make ends meet will not have enough food to eat. We are careening towards a man-made food crisis — a real national emergency.

SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps,” is a workhorse. The most effective anti-hunger program in the nation, it lifts millions of people above the poverty line and makes food accessible to low-income individuals and families. SNAP also generates economic activity. Every $1 of SNAP benefits generates $1.70 for the economy, supporting local communities and creating jobs. In addition, it boasts one of the most rigorous payment error measurement systems of any public benefit, with a one percent fraud rate.

If the shutdown continues, 769,912 Massachusetts residents ... will not have enough food to eat

The wide-reaching benefits which SNAP provides are in jeopardy unless the shutdown ends before Feb. 28, the date through which SNAP benefits are currently funded. If funding is depleted before the government reopens, local food pantries will be asked to absorb the need.

To mitigate this man-made crisis, the state of Massachusetts may need to provide emergency funds to the emergency food network, but our emergency food system does not have the capacity to replace SNAP. For every one meal charity can provide, SNAP currently provides 12.

Since the shutdown began, more residents are calling Project Bread’s toll-free FoodSource Hotline to be connected to food resources in their communities. This includes a single parent of three children who works as a TSA agent at Boston’s Logan Airport. The agent, who has to work through the shutdown without pay, called the hotline after falling behind on rent and daycare payments. Another woman who has been a federal worker for more than 22 years, called as well. Having worked a job since she was 15 years old, the woman was hesitant to seek assistance because she said others have had it worse.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have publicly called for an end to the shutdown. It’s time for Gov. Charlie Baker to step up, too. The governor should use his influence on the Republican Governor’s Association to educate his GOP colleagues in the Senate about the devastating consequences of a further prolonged shutdown.

Gov. Baker should use his influence ... to educate his GOP colleagues in the Senate about the devastating consequences of a prolonged shutdown.

Real disasters befall our communities that are beyond our control, such as the 2011 tornado in Springfield and last year’s Columbia gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley. The shutdown, however, is the result of President Trump's temper tantrum over immigration policy, not a natural disaster. Gov. Baker ought to be taking a hard stance that makes clear states can in no way afford to pay for this man-made crisis.

Baker’s capacity to rally bi-partisan support is proven. In 2017, when the Affordable Care Act was in jeopardy of repeal without replacement, Gov. Baker worked across party lines to protect the health of Massachusetts residents. We implore him to again be the voice of reason and unity. We ask Gov. Baker to write a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging him to end the shutdown, and to do it quickly, for everyone’s sake. It is time for him to lead by example.

Food is a basic human necessity. And hunger is a non-partisan issue. Americans from all sides of the political aisle have an obligation to ensure that, at the very minimum, the least fortunate among us have food to eat.

Editor's note: Individuals struggling without enough to eat can call Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline (1-800-377-1292) to connect with local food resources. Assistance is available in multiple languages.

Related:

Erin McAleer Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Erin McAleer is the president of Project Bread. 

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