We are fortunate our country’s government shutdown is over. As I write this, there is still a threat of another shutdown in mid-February, but we remain fully operational and have not been informed of any change to our programs or that March benefits are at risk.
The recent shutdown affected our food assistance program. Each month, we assist 100,000 people with about $11 million in food assistance. This assistance is a valuable resource to many families.
Fortunately, their food assistance was not lost. In a required federal procedural move, states were forced to access and distribute February food assistance early. This meant all reoccurring monthly food assistance consumers received their February allotment early, on Jan. 16. Our internal team kicked into high gear to make sure everyone had their assistance. I am proud of the work JFS employees do every day, but their drive and determination during times of need is especially inspiring.
The challenge from there was communicating to consumers they had received their benefits early, that these were their February benefits, and they would not receive another load to their card until March. It is often difficult for many of these families to stretch their benefits through the entire month, so there would no doubt be temptation to access additional food early, which could prove problematic when they did not receive benefits in February.
Gratefully, the community stepped up to help us spread the word. News outlets throughout the town broadcast the news, many shared our social media posts and our community partners helped notify their clients in other ways. It was a true team effort!
We still are concerned people may not know, or they may run short. You will hear ads from us on local radio stations this month re-affirming that consumers will not have their cards loaded in February. We also continue to encourage people to use their local foodbanks or pantries to help supplement food shortages. Please help spread the word.
As I said, we are operating as everything will be normal going forward. If the government does shutdown again and we receive word programs will be affected, we will communicate out to our community immediately. Based on this experience, I am certain everyone will rally to ensure people get the information and help they need.