Akron mother-of-five Jeaneen Bradford appreciates any help she can get keeping her fridge full and her kids fed.
But Bradford, who uses the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), doesn’t know what the future holds after she received her February benefits this month as the partial government shutdown continues.
“It's I don't want to say scary because I don't want to depend on the system — I’m trying to get off the system — but, you know, it can affect us if it goes further," said Bradford, 33, who doesn't know if she'll get benefits in March.
Bradford came to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank on Thursday with three of her sons, Geovonnee, 10, Roman, 9, and Major, 5, for the food bank’s monthly food distribution.
The food bank, which for most of its history has served as a food supplier for food pantries and shelters, started the distribution last month, said President and CEO Dan Flowers. The distribution will be held near the end of the month each month to help serve as a safety net for people who receive assistance, he said.
"We've been happy to fulfill that role,” Flowers said of being a food supplier. “But we find now that there's an opportunity for us to help people a little bit more.”
Thursday’s distribution was expected to serve more than 300 households, or about 800 people, with 45,000 to 50,000 pounds of food — about 40,000 meals — distributed in two hours. Each family received a grocery cart full of food, enough to last five to seven days.
Andrea Irland, a furloughed National Park Service employee from Cuyahoga Falls, was one of the volunteers helping to distribute the food.
Irland, an outdoor recreation planner who’s worked for the park service for 20 years, said she wants to stay busy as she entered her 34th day of being furloughed.
Irland, 54, said with her husband of 34 years, Dave, a third-grade teacher with Field Local Schools, bringing in a paycheck, they haven’t had to use any assistance programs “yet.”
"I'm OK, but another 30 days, I'd say, I would start to be concerned for myself and my co-workers even more so,” said Irland, who said she worries about seasonal co-workers or those with fewer years of experience who weren't prepared for the lengthy shutdown.
"Nobody anticipated that it would be going on for 30 days, and we don't know how much longer it'll be going on," she added.
As the partial government shutdown — now the longest government shutdown in U.S. history — entered its 34th day Thursday, 800,000 federal employees were on the verge of missing a second paycheck. Two Senate bills to reopen the government failed Thursday.
'Little bit of panic'
Stephanie Dodson, deputy director of family and adult services for the Summit County Department of Job and Family Services, was on hand Thursday to answer questions about SNAP, help people find out how to get signed up and clear up rumors.
"Unfortunately, it's causing a little bit of panic,” Dodson said.
SNAP benefits for February were issued early on Jan. 16. Those who got the early issuance won’t get February SNAP benefits on what would have been their normal download date for the month.
People won't receive SNAP benefits in February, even if the shutdown is resolved soon, because they already got them this month. SNAP benefits will be available on their regular March download date if the shutdown is resolved in time.
Dodson said she’s heard concerns that people have to use their February benefits by the end of January, or they won’t be able to use them. She’s also heard concerns that grocery stores will stop taking the Ohio Direction Card at the end of January. She said both aren’t true.
Dodson said she’s not sure what the future will hold for SNAP, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-administered program that helps about one in eight low-income Ohio residents buy food, if the shutdown continues.
Will people get their March benefits?
“We do not have an answer to that at this point in time," said Dodson, who encouraged SNAP recipients to budget their benefits.
To apply for SNAP or for questions, call the agency at 844-640-OHIO (6446) between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays or visit summitdjfs.org. For food assistance, call 211 or visit 211summit.org.
Dodson encouraged federal employees not being paid during the shutdown to call to see if they’re eligible. Flowers also encouraged federal employees to contact the food bank if they need food assistance at 330-535-6900 or visit akroncantonfoodbank.org.
"We're here to help in whatever way we can,” Dodson said.
Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, email@example.com and @EmilyMills818.