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North Texas food banks brace for increased demand ahead of a possible government shutdown

Kathy Buskrik moves boxes of spaghetti onto the forklift in the warehouse at North Texas Food Bank.
Yfat Yossifor
Kathy Buskrik moves boxes of spaghetti onto the forklift in the warehouse at North Texas Food Bank Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Plano.

Food banks in North Texas are bracing for a possible government shutdown as Congress struggles to reach an agreement on federal spending.

A shutdown could delay paychecks for millions of federal employees and disrupt nutrition assistance programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — or WIC program — and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.

Government funding ends Oct. 1 and if Congress is unable to pass a funding plan by Sunday at 12:01 a.m., the government will shut down.

This isn’t the first time a shutdown has happened. The last shutdown — which lasted 35 days between 2018 and 2019 — caused increased demand for nonprofit food distributors like North Texas Food Bank.

“The longer [a government shutdown] goes on, the bigger the impact,” said Clarissa Clarke, NTFB Government Relations Officer. “The government, they can handle it like the SNAP programs and the WIC for about a month. But once it goes on longer than that — the longer it goes on — the worse it is for our neighbors.”

What could cause a government shutdown?

Lawmakers are supposed to pass 12 different spending bills to fund agencies across the government.

In May, President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed on spending $1.59 trillion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, but members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus reject that deal and demand $120 billion in cuts.

For now, SNAP benefits will be available in full through October, Clarke said. But if a shutdown continued into November, those benefits could be disrupted.

In fiscal year 2023, the North Texas Food Bank distributed more than 46 million meals through the SNAP program.

MORE | Inflation, cuts to federal food aid drive massive need at North Texas food banks

During the last shutdown, Tarrant Area Food Bank — which provides 60 million meals per year to 13 North Texas counties — held mobile distributions to feed federal employees who were temporarily without a paycheck, and they’re preparing to do it again this year, said Julie Butner, Tarrant Area Food Bank president and CEO.

“Should a government shutdown occur, we will be focused on the mid-cities where the airport is located and then focused at the Joint Reserve Base, where we know there are a lot of active duty military as well as federal workers and federal contract employees,” Butner said.

In the event of a shutdown, federal employees will receive a partial paycheck on Oct. 18, and would miss their first full paycheck by Nov. 1.

As of Thursday, Butner said Tarrant Area Food Bank anticipated a shutdown and mobile distributions are planned for the last week of October.

Post-pandemic inflation and rising food costs paired with a growing population in North Texas would add to the increased demands felt by area food banks.

“As you see people moving to North Texas, there is a percentage of that population that is not earning a living wage,” Butner said. “And so, we are seeing higher numbers of people who are coming to our partner agencies and the food bank than we've seen in the past.”

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Megan Cardona is a daily news reporter for KERA News. She was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and previously worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.