Sen. Hassan hears from those impacted by shutdown

Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter Executive Director Michael Reinke listens to Sen. Maggie Hassan while she speaks to a group at NSKS about the partial government shutdown Friday morning.

NASHUA – The partial government shutdown marked exactly three weeks Friday, and the lapse in federal funding is starting to cause concerns among many relying on those monies.

That’s why U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan stopped by the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter Friday morning to hear from those directly affected by President Donald Trump’s decision to partially shut down the government over his proposed border wall.

“We are doing everything we can … to try to move forward and get government reopen, find our way forward, find common sense border security,” U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan said, referring to the New Hampshire delegation.

Friday also tied a record for the longest lapse in funding, and was also the day government workers started to miss paychecks.

NSKS Executive Director Michael Reinke said most of the agency’s funding comes from philanthropic support from the community, although they do receive funds from TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), a federal program that helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans. It provides people with emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost, and provides food and administrative funds to states. Reinke said the soup kitchen relies on the funding to stock its food pantry and prepare meals for those in need.

Telegraph photo by Adam Urquhart Sen. Maggie Hassan speaks to a group at the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter about the impacts the partial government shutdown is having on different people and organizations in New Hampshire Friday morning.

“If this continues to go forward, things like those food programs are going to disappear,” Reinke said.

Director of Food Services Shane Sullivan said at the moment the soup kitchen serves roughly 70-80 clients for breakfast and 120 for dinner. He said the agency is typically less busy at the start of each month than later, a trend likely caused by dwindling benefits and people’s SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) dollars hitting empty.

If the shutdown continues, Sullivan estimated the agency will end up serving three times as many people as it does now. NSKS assists 600 to 700 families a week when it comes to groceries, he said, adding that the agency is considering raising the monthly allotment.

“The impact (the shutdown) will likely have on them is going to be huge,” Sullivan said.

Once people are no longer able to stretch those SNAP dollars, he added, the number of hungry people looking for a meal will go up.

Rosemarie Dykeman, Director of Social Services at the Nashua Salvation Army, said she has already been hearing from clients coming in with concerns about whether their checks will come in and how they will buy food.

She said they service around 400 to 450 families a month.

“Those numbers will increase if monies don’t come through for them in their SNAP benefits or their WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) benefits, any of those programs,” Dykeman said.

Meanwhile, Jenn Morton, of the initiative End 68 Hours of Hunger, said the program is currently assisting about 260 children each week who don’t have enough food on the weekends. January, February and March are always the toughest months, Morton said; it’s the time of year when families are faced with the difficult decision of either heating their homes or feeding their children. She said they are already beginning to add to the numbers.

“In addition, in southern New Hampshire over 500 employees of the federal government are employed by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and other government related agencies, and so that’s a new concern for those families, as well,” Morton said.

In responding to Morton, Hassan said, “I met with some of them yesterday, and one air traffic controller who has six children is trying to figure out how they are going to cover their mortgage and feed the kids. He got his paycheck yesterday (Thursday), which was for zero dollars.”

Hassan said a lot of these folks are in really challenging situations right now, and that officials are trying to reassure federal employees that when government reopens they will get their back-pay. She said a related bill to that passed unanimously in the Senate Thursday night.

“There are a number of jobs in the federal government where federal employees are prohibited from taking on a second job,” Hassan said.

She explained that even the notion right now if people are furloughed they could go do something else and pay their bills – a lot of those workers are not allowed to do that because of the law, and the need to have their total attention and focus on the jobs they have. She said examples of those include air traffic controllers or FBI agents.

Moreover, Reinke underlined something he has heard other people saying, in that you can measure the impact financially, but it’s harder to communicate the emotional impact that this is having when people don’t know how their food and mortgage is going to be paid.

“That level of anxiety is really really harmful,” Reinke said. “At the end of the day budgets are not just a financial document, they’re a moral document. They speak about our values and priorities.”

“It’s not about whether we need border security or improvements,” Hassan said. “It’s about what the best use of taxpayer dollars to achieve that is, but we can have that debate and still reopen the rest of government, and that’s what we really want to focus on.”

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206 or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.

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