Okla. relief amid the government shutdown

The Collegian investigated relief efforts from the local food bank, TU and OU.

Jan. 25 brought an end to the longest government shutdown in the history of the United States. After 35 days, President Trump signed a bill that put a temporary end to the shutdown.

It began when the White House and Congress could not agree on the federal budget, the main source of contention being whether to spend $5.7 billion on the proposed wall on the border of the U.S. and Mexico. Both sides offered their proposed budget plan, but thus far neither the Democrats nor the White House will budge on their stance on the border wall. One such compromise from Trump included allowing some additional protections for DACA recipients along with his proposed border wall, but the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives rejected the offer.

However, Trump’s temporary end to the shutdown will only last until Feb. 15. At this point, Congress and the White House will have to again attempt to find a compromise or risk 800,000 federal employees missing additional paychecks. Not all federal employees were affected by the shutdown; those deemed “essential” were still paid. Congress and the president were among those deemed “essential.”

Those among the 800,000 furloughed or not paid were portions of the Park Service staff, Forest Service staff, TSA employees, Coast Guard employees, NASA staff members, IRS staff members, Department of Housing and Urban Development, National Weather Service forecasters and Customs and Border Protection agents.

The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma
One local organization helping federal employees was The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.

“We had emergency boxes of food available in the lobby so that if people showed up here or called and needed something immediately, we could take care of their needs,” said Greg Raskin, Communications Manager at the Food Bank.

Raskin also mentioned their “pop-up market here at the food bank [set up for the] pretty extraordinary circumstances.

“It was open three to seven… the day after MLK Day. We accepted everybody. We were trying to target federal workers, but anyone who showed up that night was served,” he said.
In case of another shutdown, many people fear the continued lapse in government aid could have detrimental consequences for those who rely on it.

“Things could get complicated,” said Raskin, “with people who are SNAP recipients… formally known as food stamps. During the shutdown, the people who receive SNAP got their February benefits early, so if the government continues, it will be a much longer period before their March benefits come in… If the government stays shut down for a longer period of time, the risk involved is that SNAP benefits could dissolve altogether.”

Raskin continued that if a similar group of people from the last shutdown needed help, then the Food Bank “will definitely easily be able to accommodate that.”

However, if SNAP funding stops, he said, “That is a huge amount of food to all of a sudden fill in. The food bank is very good about being nimble and flexible and serving people in an emergency situation and to help them bridge short-term crisis, but for chronic food insecurity, charitable giving is not going to be able to fill that need.”

There is also a risk of public-school children who get free breakfast and lunches losing these meals if the government goes back into shutdown for a long enough period. If both SNAP and the free lunch program get defunded, Raskin said that “instead of dozens of people needing our help, we are going to have probably thousands of people needing our help.”

University of Tulsa
As for how the University of Tulsa responded to the shutdown, on Jan. 22, President Clancy said, “We are watching carefully for any potential harm to our students, faculty or staff. We have sent out emails to the TU community asking if there is anyone that has been affected by the shutdown so that we can provide them with assistance and extensions if needed.”

The shutdown may not affect young students at a private university as much as it does others in Tulsa, and President Clancy stated at the time of the interview that they had not yet received “notice of anyone we could assist.”

Since the government works closely with TU in certain programs, such as Cyber Security, there were some concerns about how the shutdown would affect those areas.

President Clancy responded, “I have not heard of any impact on faulty research as of yet but will ask further if we are at risk. If you hear of anyone that we can assist or guide, please let me know.”

Beyond TU, larger and public universities may have a different story.

University of Oklahoma
As a public institution, the University of Oklahoma was affected a bit more than TU. Federal funding already granted will be alright, but there may be some delays in federal payments, delayed proposal reviews and a suspension of allocation of new funds, according to OU’s Public Affairs.

Public Affairs was not aware of any employee that did not receive a regular paycheck.

OU already had a food pantry in place that helped any potential persons affected by the shutdown, but other organizations or departments like the National Weather Center and the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences hosted additional food pantries to help any “federal friends.”

Post Author: Madison Connell