The government announced that funding is available through February for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. If the shutdown lingers, future funding is uncertain for SNAP, which helps feed 42 million Americans.
Churches Are Helping in Many Ways
In addition to financial assistance, churches are meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of affected workers. With their proximity to many government agencies, the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas are being hit particularly hard. Morgan Chapel United Methodist Church in Woodbine, Maryland, has a “fairly substantial” food pantry, says Pastor Jim Skillington, and is preparing for higher demand starting this weekend.
Pastor Henry Davis says his church, First Baptist in Highland Park, Maryland, is being lenient regarding school tuition payments and has set up a fund to help furloughed employees. About one-fourth of the church’s 3,500 members work for the federal government.
First Baptist Church in Glenarden, Maryland, has been distributing three-week supplies of food to furloughed employees. About a quarter of phone calls to the church lately have been tied to the shutdown. “They don’t understand why they have to go through it, and many people say it’s never lasted this long,” says Pastor Cynthia Terry. “So they’re able to get through it because we share in the burden.”
To ease emotional burdens, another Maryland church started Furlough Fellowship, a support group for affected workers. Pastor Jeff Jones of North Bethesda United Methodist Church got the idea from leading previous unemployment support groups.
Attendees appreciate having a place to “share the struggle,” Jones says. During the first meeting on January 7, they spoke of concerns ranging from how to pay college tuition to what the post-shutdown office environment will be like.
Other D.C.-area churches are asking local schools if any families need assistance. And churches throughout the country are lifting up prayers that officials end the stalemate soon.
Speaking of prayer, the shutdown forced Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to back out as keynote speaker for the Missouri governor’s annual prayer breakfast. The agency couldn’t afford travel expenses for Carson, a spokesperson said.