By Meg Kimmel
The writer is chief operating officer of the Maryland Food Bank.
Marylanders beware. When members of Congress returned to work earlier this month, they had the chance to avoid a partial government shutdown on Saturday. And instead of doing the hard work needed to pass a long-term bipartisan deal, Congress, once again, resorted to a temporary extension.
Our state is home to roughly 140,000 federal workers. That number does not include federal contractor workers (there are no available estimates for how many of these workers live in Maryland). Many of these workers live paycheck to paycheck, making just enough so they don’t qualify for government aid. In 2020, Maryland’s total workforce numbers ranked first in the nation for federal jobs per capita, at 242 jobs per 10,000 residents. Again, this data does not include those who work indirectly for the federal government as contractors.
Each time the federal government approaches a shutdown or shuts down, the demand for food assistance rises. This fact sits on top of our current reality, in which food insecurity in Maryland is at historic highs. One in three Marylanders are already struggling to access nutritious food.
The “why” behind this current crisis is well documented. Although the rate of inflation has slowed, housing, food, and other essentials remain at record levels, forcing more people to seek help to make ends meet. This strain is showing up across more income levels than ever.
In 2023, 35% of families with incomes below $35,000 experienced food insecurity, as did 32% of families with incomes of $35,000-$50,000, and 22% of families with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000.
Furloughing federal workers and contractors will only increase the number of people trying to pay bills and put food on the table. And that will increase the number of people needing support from the Maryland Food Bank and our statewide network of community partners.
Maryland workers who rely on federal government paychecks have started planning for the difficult choices to come… deciding what bills can be paid and which cannot.
We implore Congress to pass annual appropriations bills and keep our government open. Kicking the can down the road has very real implications for working people in our state. Marylanders are already suffering; we simply cannot afford to create even more uncertainty and hardship for our neighbors.