The extended partial government shutdown brought sharp focus to what the risk of hunger and food insecurity looks like for many hardworking families. While the focus for much of last month was on the nearly 800,000 federal employees who were furloughed or working without pay, the challenge of not earning enough money continues today for millions of Americans, including over 57,000 in Dane County.
While the furloughed federal employees will receive back pay, most federal contract workers — janitors, security guards and food servers, many of whom who earn the least — will not get back pay, despite losing 10 percent of their annual earnings during the shutdown. This creates new need and gaps for the emergency food system that includes the Badger Prairie Needs Network.
Some were surprised that many affected workers were turning to food pantries. Those of us working to end hunger locally were struck by the similarities between furloughed government workers and 65 percent of the adults who use our local pantry.
The typical American worker earns around $44,500 a year. Households earning under $46,000 are eligible to receive federal commodities at the food pantry. That’s right, the typical worker in American qualifies for food pantry assistance.
Consider the minimum wage in Wisconsin: $7.25 per hour. At this rate, working full-time earns just over $15,000 a year. Many households using the food pantry have multiple wage-earners or are single parents working multiple jobs. The sad reality is, those furloughed federal workers are not special. They are the norm.
Watching news coverage of restaurants opening as soup kitchens, pop-up food pantries and GoFundMe pages to help pay the rent was heartbreaking. It was inspiring to see people come together to help their neighbors. While the shutdown is over and those government employees are being paid, the battle against hunger for many more Americans continues.
Far too many are working as hard and as long as we can – and we’re still not making it. How can you help? Donate to your local food pantry, volunteer to help, get involved in local government and vote in each and every election. Contact elected officials and tell them to support policies and programs that help families make ends meet, including supporting food assistance programs that are becoming a lifeline for many of our neighbors.
Executive Director, Badger Prairie Needs Network