Standoff in Washington

Government shutdown won’t shutter food banks

 

dhanks@MiamiHerald.com

Florida’s Agriculture Department has enough supplies and federal funds to keep food banks stocked through October even if the U.S. government does not fully reopen its anti-hunger programs, a spokesman said Friday.

Thanks to unspent dollars and orders placed before the shutdown, Florida will continue delivering canned goods, fresh vegetables and meats to food distribution programs that rely on the federally funded commodity program, said Aaron Keller, communications coordinator at the state Department of Agriculture. He said the $38 million program can continue sending truckloads of food throughout Florida “as normal” until mid-November even if there is no end to the partial government shutdown in Washington.

The pledge is welcome news for food banks that rely on federal supplies for a large chunk of their warehouses and pantries. Once the U.S. Department of Agriculture ran out of money at the start of a new budget year on Tuesday, it halted federal funds that states use to purchase food for hunger programs.

“We know what we’re getting next week,’’ said Sari Vatske, head of community relations for Feeding South Florida, which relies on USDA supplies for about a third of the 35 million pounds of food it distributes each year in the region. “We’re getting canned vegetables and orange juice.”

The shutdown put hunger programs in jeopardy because Washington warned it would have no new dollars for its commodity program, which supplies the food for distribution. While Keller said current resources would run out by mid-November, that’s well past the horizon analysts generally see for the current stand-off. The Treasury Department says Congress must extend the national debt ceiling by Oct. 17 or risk a default on U.S. bonds, an event seen as a potential catastrophe for world financial markets.

As the weekend approached, there was no sign of a breakthrough as Democrats push for a funding bill that would extend the status quo of government operations while Republicans demanded negotiations over a healthcare plan they say will harm the economy. Unless a deal is reached over the weekend, the nation on Monday will face the prospect of a second week in the shutdown drama.

Speaking at a Maryland construction company, President Barack Obama insisted there are enough Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives to pass a measure to reopen the government, but that House Speaker John Boehner refuses to defy House conservatives.

“The only thing that is keeping the government shut down, the only thing preventing people from going back to work and basic research starting back up . . . is that Speaker John Boehner won’t even let the bill get a `yes’ or `no’ vote because he doesn’t want to anger the extremists in his party,” Obama said.

He called on Boehner, R-Ohio, to put up for a vote a measure to restart the government that doesn’t include repeal or delay of the healthcare law.

“Put it on the floor and let every individual member of Congress make up their own minds,” Obama said. “It should be that simple.”

Boehner insisted Republicans want to resolve the dispute “as soon as possible,” but he said it would require “Democrats to realize neither side gets everything it wants.”

Republicans are insistent on delaying or defunding Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and Boehner said that reports of problems with the healthcare websites underscore the need to negotiate.

“With Obamacare proving to be a train wreck, the president’s insistence on steamrolling ahead with this flawed program is irresponsible,” Boehner said. “It’s time for the president and Senate Democrats to come to the negotiating table and drop their my-way-or-the-highway approach that gave us this shutdown.”

There’s been some talk of fashioning a government funding bill that includes repeal of the law’s 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. The House included repeal of the tax in one of the measures it passed, and the Senate earlier this year endorsed repeal by an overwhelming vote.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reiterated his stand Thursday: If you want repeal, open up the government first.

“We said we’ll negotiate on anything they want to talk about. That includes, as we indicated, anything — healthcare device tax. But the government has to be open,” Reid said.

With a patchwork of agencies shuttered and others functioning normally, the funding impasse has left leaders at the state and local level to decipher advisories and contingency plans for what the impasse would mean for their organizations.

Judy Cruz, CEO of Florida’s Treasure Coast Food Bank, said Friday she still wasn’t sure the status of the USDA shipments given that the website used for ordering supplies had gone dark after the shutdown.

This report contains information from The Associated Press.

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