Traffic increases at food pantries, aid programs

Some food pantries and aid programs in Maryland are experiencing an increase in requests for help — a jump that program officials believe is due partly to federal furloughs.

Food pantry managers around Maryland say they have heard directly from federal workers seeking help and have also noticed an increase in families walking through the door for the first time.


"Normally, this week at our pantry is a slow week," said the Rev. Andre Samuel at Faith Tabernacle Church in Baltimore's Lakeland neighborhood. "This week, we've had double the amount of people we're used to seeing."

Samuel said that means about 50 to 60 families seeking help each day putting food on the table, compared with the typical 25 to 30.


The partial government shutdown began Oct. 1. Because departments operate on a two-week pay cycle, many federal workers received a paycheck Friday that was cut in half.

Economists believe Maryland may be among the states most affected by the shutdown because of its concentration of federal employees and contractors. About 314,000 federal employees and 250,000 contract workers live in the state.

An estimated 800,000 people have been furloughed nationwide.

The Maryland Food Bank has distributed more than 1 million pounds of food since the shutdown began, a 63 percent increase over the same period last year, spokesman Kate Sam said.

It's impossible to say how much of that is due to the shutdown, though. Sam noted requests for help in some areas of the state have been up since before the shutdown began.

Jacqueline Miller with End Hunger in Calvert County said her nonprofit received an influx of emails from federal workers asking if regulations permitted them to seek help. Her group responded by organizing an event targeted to workers and businesses that rely on them as customers.

The group distributed 2,700 pounds of food to 71 families at its first "Food for Furlough" event and is planning another one for Monday in Huntingtown.

Miller said the group is not checking federal identification — anyone who needs help can receive it — so it's impossible to say how many receiving help have been directly affected by the shutdown.


"If you own a gas station or you own a restaurant [frequented by federal workers], you're not getting that pay back, which is a real loss," Miller said. "We wanted to help fill in that gap."

The increase in requests has not been limited to food programs.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said Friday officials received at least two dozen calls from residents unable to pay water and sewer bills because of the shutdown. The county announced it will suspend water service disconnections until the government reopens.

Bita Dayhoff, president of the Howard County Community Action Council, said her group has received 364 requests this month for help with housing payments, utility bills and other aid not related to food, a 30 percent jump from the same period last year.

United Way of Central Maryland received 15 shutdown-related calls to a 211 hot line it uses to help connect people to services, a spokeswoman said.

Furloughed federal workers had filed more than 16,000 unemployment insurance applications as of Sunday, more than four times the number typically received from that sector in a year.


Federal safety net programs, including Social Security and Medicaid, have stayed open during the shutdown. In Maryland, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — commonly known as WIC — has enough money to provide benefits for the rest of the month.

Brett Meyers created a program in Rockville two years ago called Nourish Now that collects food donated by restaurants and redistributes it to families. He said he typically receives one to three requests a day but that the calls have increased to as many as five a day.

He said many of those new families are furloughed workers.

"They were getting by and everything was fine," he said. "Now they're not making enough to cover their families."