City Desk

Furloughed Families Look for Food Assistance During Shutdown

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Shaunti Carroll, a 35-year-old single mother of two, was finally getting back on her feet. Things were tight, but she was able to pay her bills and had planned to move out of her mother's place on the Maryland side of Capitol Heights in the next couple of weeks.

But then the government shut down.

For the last five years, Carroll has worked as a contractor for Jacobs Technology, assigned as an administrative support specialist to the Department of Health and Human Services. In the days before the government shutdown, when everyone was scrambling to figure out what to do, her bosses told her she probably wouldn't get furloughed.

But she was ultimately sent home, along with the other administrative specialist working on her project. When the government reopens, she'll go back to work—but unlike federal employees, who hope to get back pay for time missed, Carroll will just have to do without the salary she would have earned.

Now she's worried about making her car payments and is receiving unemployment benefits. She even enrolled in Obamacare, just in case the shutdown lasts longer than 30 days and her health insurance from her job expires. The unemployment check she's supposed to get, though, is $400 less per week than her regular paycheck, so she's not sure how she'll put food on the table.

"It's crazy right now," she says. "Who would have thought we would have been in this situation?"

Carroll and her children are one of seven families with a furloughed worker as the breadwinner that are now getting food from Nourish Now—a two-year-old Maryland-based nonprofit that provides meals for families in D.C. and Maryland from fresh-food surpluses they have largely collected from restaurants and caterers.

She's picking up her food today, a mix of perishables and non-perishables that should last her family a week. She's told some of her other furloughed friends, who she says are in worse situations than she is, about the organization, and they plan to get assistance as well.

"People are working hard, they're having jobs, they're doing well, and then all of a sudden the government shutdown happens, and the trickle-down effect starts," says Brett Meyers, founder and executive director of Nourish Now. "I didn't think about it when the [government shutdown] first happened."

In D.C. and Maryland alone, 24,000 furloughed workers have applied for unemployment benefits. Food banks across the country are seeing an uptick in clients. And it could get worse: If the shutdown were to go on until the end of October, states would likely have to cut aid to the poor, including food stamps.

"I'm very frustrated with the government, I think that it's unfair, it's interrupting people's livelihoods," Carroll says. "I don't understand how human beings can have so much power, it amazes me."

When the government shutdown ends, and Carroll gets back to work, she says she plans to donate back to Nourish Now.

"There's nothing wrong with opening your mouth to get help," she says.

Flickr photo via Tofutti Breaks under a Creative Commons License

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