SNAP, WIC and other food assistance recipients face uncertainty as government shutdown heads into sixth day

HOLLIS, Queens -- The federal offices that administer food assistance programs may be in trouble as the federal government shutdown wears on.

More specifically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which controls the SNAP program — which is often still referred to by its former name, food stamps — has said that it has to reduce staff, starting Wednesday evening.

“People are going to be angry,” said one resident of Hollis Queens, to PIX11 News.

She’s not receiving public benefits, but she said that she knows people who do.

In fact, her situation is the rule here in southeastern Queens. The neighborhoods of Hollis, Jamaica and St. Albans are the communities in New York City with the highest levels of food insecurity -- where people do not know where their next meal will come from -- according to a recent study by the Food Bank for New York City, and reported on by the Times Ledger of Queens.

The statistic means that while plenty of people in those neighborhoods are not reliant on federal food assistance, almost everybody in those communities knows somebody who is.

The picture across all five boroughs is similarly bleak.

"One in five New Yorkers is food insecure," said Rebecca Glass, manager of agency operations at City Harvest, a New York charity that retrieves food from restaurants and other food businesses and delivers it to food pantries, food banks, soup kitchens and other entities that provide food to New Yorkers who cannot fully afford to feed themselves.

The situation is made worse by the federal shutdown.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers federal food assistance programs, has frozen its website for the shutdown. However, before the shutdown began, the agency had said that families on SNAP will receive their benefits for January.

However, it could not guarantee that other, similar programs, such as WIC, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations can provide benefits for much longer.

The department also said on its website that after the fifth day of the shutdown it will have to reduce its staffing to just five percent of all employees. The fifth day ends at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

That leaves the burden on food providers that much greater. Families that are used to receiving a monthly payment of $200 to help ensure that there's food on the table will suddenly find themselves "in sad shape," said Glass, from City Harvest.

She said that her organization and other charities are set up to try and handle the need, but that it puts a strain on an already challenged system.

On Wednesday, there was no indication that the shutdown will end any time soon.

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