Partial federal shutdown threatens NH nonprofit budgets for food and affordable housing
By Laura Aronson
MANCHESTER, NH — The partial government shutdown in Washington, D.C., is threatening some Granite State residents, including 2,400 furloughed Federal workers here, with food insecurity and loss of affordable housing. Nonprofits and agencies like Families in Transition (FITNH), New Hampshire Housing (also known as New Hampshire Housing and Finance Authority, or NHHFA), and the New Hampshire Food Bank, are working closely with state and national authorities, including Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, who works on the Farm Bill, and Congressman Chris Pappas, to track and respond to the situation.
Responding to the need for affordable housing
Congressman Chris Pappas met in Manchester on January 18 with nine representatives of FITNH, New Hampshire Housing, New Hampshire Humanities, and NH Center for Nonprofits, to listen to their concerns. He then toured the newly-renovated housing facilities at FIT-NH on the corner of Valley and Wilson Streets.
Kathleen Reardon, CEO of NH Center for Nonprofits, said, “The shutdown impacts tax refunds, rent, food, and transportation. They have not been curtailed yet, but there’s that fear.” (On January 15, Manchester Transit Authority Executive Director Mike Whitten told the Board of Alderman that they may need money to cover payroll for bus service in the next few weeks, because the MTA cannot access $440,00 in federal funding.)
Maureen Beauregard, President of FITNH, said, “Our housing grants are OK for now, but what about the renewals? It’s scary. I can’t fathom this going on another month.”
FITNH which serves the homeless, has multiple locations in Manchester, including the 11-unit Family Place Resource Center and Shelter, 17-unit Lowell Street Housing Program, 22-unit Recovery Housing for single women and children, and others. It runs the Willows Substance Use Treatment Center, Hollows Community Garden on Spruce Street, and OutFITters Thrift Store on Second Street.
Dean Christon, Executive Director and CEO of NHHFA, said, “The three-week point of the shutdown is a precipice that could undermine the willingness of the private sector to make [the property agreements] work. They need faith. It’s hard getting people back to the table. Some tenants are difficult to work with, and if the government team member is not reliable, that is a perception that will be hard to live down.”
NHHFA promotes, finances and supports affordable housing. It manages Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) for long-term rental assistance, works with local community action agencies that provide emergency housing services, and offers mortgage programs to low-income homebuyers.
Ben Frost, Director of Legal and Public Affairs for NHHFA, stated, “We’re grateful for Congressman Pappas’ invitation to meet with him to talk about concerns related to the impact of the Federal government partial shutdown. As the statewide administrator of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Housing Choice Voucher Program, HUD has informed us that there are sufficient funds to continue making voucher payments to rental property owners for January and February. Indeed, we received January payments in a timely manner. This is a critical safety net program, as the great majority of our voucher recipients are either elderly or disabled, and have limited income resources to help them pay rent.”
Responding to food insecurity
The New Hampshire Food Bank is prepared to aid food pantries, soup kitchens, senior citizen dining centers, and vulnerable individuals:
- More than 40,000 New Hampshire families receive federally-funded SNAP (food stamps) benefits. The food stamps, processed by state Department of Health and Human Services employees last weekend, will be available January 20 instead of the regular availability date of February 5. This is the February allotment and recipients will have to stretch it to the end of the month.
- Some beneficiaries due for re-certification of benefits in January were not able to get them processed in time.
- 2,400 furloughed federal employees are experiencing food insecurity for the first time and are just learning about the safety net.
“Those in need should go to their local agency or food pantry, which they can find on the Food Bank website,” said Eileen Groll Liponis, Executive Director of New Hampshire Food Bank. It lists 22 Manchester agencies. “SNAP clients can double the amount they redeem at farmer’s markets,” Liponis added.
The primary need now is educational and informative. The Food Bank sent multilingual notices about the situation to over 400 state agencies with which it partners.
Liponis said, “SNAP benefits normally don’t last a full month, so by the third weekend before the last week, folks are really starting to rely on our food agencies, our partner agencies throughout the state. We anticipate that in mid-February, we’re going to start to see a spike in our agencies and demand for distributions, and we’re prepared for that. The Food Bank anticipates more deliveries by the end of February to in order to meet the demand.
How the Food Bank works
The large property for the Food Bank on East Industrial Drive in Manchester is provided by Catholic Charities, which also provides the IT backbone and accounting services. The industrial-style facility has several large bays for sorting, storing, and shipping out food, a commercial kitchen, classrooms, and offices.
Foods are picked up by or trucked to the Food Bank’s 400 partner agencies.
The Food Bank, along with others throughout the country, receives large government commodities through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), as US Department of Agriculture program. The schedule of deliveries is known ahead of time, and the Food Bank adds other, needed items. The Food Bank also works with Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, which partners with Con Agra and other large companies. Because the first three months of the calendar year are a lean time for donations after the holidays, Liponis has planned for inventory, and can meet further demand through food drives and other measures.
“About 15 percent of what we distribute is through our purchasing program and we’re obviously able to get some amazing prices through that and we have a shared solicitor with a number of other food banks throughout the New England, so we’re always looking to buy large lots and share them to keep our costs down,” Liponis said.
“For every dollar donated to us, 97 cents goes to programming and we’re able to provide approximately two meals with that dollar,” Liponis said. She continued, “So that’s a lot of bang for the buck because when we get the national donations, we don’t pay for the product. We’re just paying for the shared maintenance fee to keep the lights on, keep the trucks going, pay the drivers, and make everything work. Nobody’s really paying for the product. They’re just paying for the ability for us to move it to them.”
The Food Bank raises money from corporations, foundations and grants for its $100,000 weekly operating budget. It also receives food in kind, which is not considered in the budget.
Food Bank programs
As the “charitable backbone of food distribution,” Liponis said the Food Bank has a variety of programs in addition to food distribution. The Food Bank:
- Picks up donations of salad directly from grocery store partners, delivers to partners that are trained in food safety, within a 50-mile radius of Manchester. Outside the radius, arranges for partners to pick up. It also receives salvaged produce and individual donations. If the food can’t be used in its culinary arts kitchen or other feeding programs, the Food Bank donates to a pig farmer for animal feed.
- Works with farmers markets, matching the SNAP benefits so recipients can double their benefit.
- Helps individuals complete SNAP applications if they’re having difficulty.
- Grows produce in a one-acre production garden on River Road. “We got 15,000 pounds of produce out of there last year and that’s done a lot through our volunteer efforts,” Liponis said.
- Hosts Cooking Matters®, a six-week nutritional education program for adults, children, and families, in partnership with the state’s cooperative extension program. “It teaches you how to shop, for example, how to use a whole chicken and not just parts of the chicken get the most for your money,” said Liponis.
- Provides pop-up unit pricing tours in local stores for nutritional education and shopping experience.
- Trains individuals in culinary arts through its two-week Recipe for Success job training program. The program produces 500 meals a day that mainly go to the Boys and Girls Clubs of central New Hampshire for after-school meals. Veteran students help new students. The program also has a food truck that it deploys to local events.
“It’s a lot of moving parts, but it’s really good work,” said Liponis, who is the descendent of seven generations of fruit farmers in the Hudson Valley, who valued frugality and eliminating waste, using fish guts to plant Christmas trees and fish bones to grow rose bushes. “It’s hard work, but we also feel like we’re in the unique position of working to put ourselves out of business.”
How to help
Individuals and groups can help by:
- Donating cash, food, toiletries, or cleaning products. The Freedom from Hunger Club is a monthly giving club for donors. Donations are also welcome at local food pantries and other programs.
- Volunteering. In 2018, volunteers dedicated more than 19,732 total hours to the Food Bank, the equivalent of $503,561. They work in the warehouse and the office, and volunteer with Cooking Matters®. More than 400 state agencies also welcome volunteers.
- Organizing a food drive.
- Taking the SNAP Challenge, preparing three meals a day for just $4.15, which is the benefit received by working poor families, people with disabilities, and seniors on fixed incomes. Benefits intended to supplement a struggling family’s budget, and simply can’t cover food costs for an entire month. But after rent, utilities, transportation, and childcare, most low-income households have little or no money left for food without SNAP benefits. Many of these families turn to the Food Bank’s partner agencies – like food pantries, soup kitchens, and emergency shelters – to help keep food on the table.
- Advocating by lending your voice, telling people about the issues facing our fellow New Hampshire residents
- Planting a row for the hungry. Started in 1995 by the Garden Writers Association (GWA), the Plant a Row (PAR) program has encouraged gardeners all over the country to plant an extra row of produce in their gardens to donate to local organizations seeking to alleviate hunger in their communities. Since its beginnings, over 16 million pounds of produce providing over 60 million meals have been donated by American gardeners. All this has been achieved without government subsidy or bureaucratic red tape – just people helping people. Learn more about the PAR program by visiting the GWA website
- Sponsoring a mobile food pantry.
- Working in the production garden from spring through fall.