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Donor Briefing: Responding to the Impacts of the Federal Government Shutdown

Donor Briefing: Responding to the Impacts of the Federal Government Shutdown

On Thursday, January 17, Arabella Advisors co-hosted a webinar for donors, designed to examine the effects of the federal government shutdown on federal government workers as well as many of the most vulnerable in our society–including those who rely on federal food assistance and other government programs to help them make ends meet.

The webinar explored both near- and longer-term impacts of the shutdown and addressed how philanthropy can help. Co-hosts included Environmental Grantmakers Association, Farm to Fork Initiative, Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, Philanthropy New York, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders, and United Philanthropy Forum.

You can listen to the full webinar at this link.

Impacts of the Shutdown

After introductory remarks from the moderator, Eric Kessler, the call began by examining impacts of the shutdown via input from a range of expert speakers.

  • John Berry, who headed up the US Office of Personnel Management under president Obama and is now the President of the American Australian Association, spoke about the current impacts on federal workers, many of whom live paycheck-to-paycheck and are already behind on their bills.
  • Stacy Dean, Vice President for Food Assistance Policy for the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, spoke about a developing crisis related to SNAP benefit payments, which put food on the table in millions of homes across the country. Basically: Shutdown-related changes to the payment system are likely to lead to significantly more people needing significantly more support from food banks in the coming weeks and months, especially in certain states. You can learn more about this problem here.
  • Radha Muthiah, the President & CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank in DC, provided perspective on the challenges her Food Bank is already facing, including a 20 percent uptick in demand from federal workers who now need support (and who aren’t familiar with the system for getting it), and concerns about another pending surge in need related to the SNAP benefit issue noted above.
  • Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, the CEO of Feeding America, then spoke to how that organization is working to coordinate response via its national network of food banks, as well as other support providers across the country.

How Donors Can Help

The call then pivoted to a look at what donors can do to help.

  • Tonia Wellons, the Vice President of Community Investment for the Greater Washington Community Foundation, provided guidance on what her community foundation is already doing to help, including the creation of a resilience fund that will provide emergency cash and food relief for local workers, contractors and small business owners impacted by the shutdown. She also suggested that donors should look to bolster eviction prevention programs and access to school lunches, noting that many federal employees and contractors are now relying on friends and family to help them get by and can only stretch funds so far.
  • Finally, Shelley Whelpton, Senior Managing Director in Arabella’s DC office, summarized a variety of steps donor can take, based both on the call and on her team’s research outside it.

Those steps include:

  • Helping federal workers: Donate to the Federal Employee Education & Assistance Fund, a nonprofit which helps federal public servants in need. This is the only nonprofit that directly serves federal workers. They are providing loans to furloughed employees.
  • Supporting food banks: Donate to food banks in the states that are most affected by the SNAP payment issue, as discussed above. Donate to the Capital Area Food Bank, to meet the immediate and pending needs in the DC region. And/or donate to Feeding America’s Shutdown Response Fund, which will distribute support to food banks most in need.
  • Reaching out to your community foundation: Donors should consider reaching out to community foundations in their regions to see what they are doing. We are seeing some interesting examples, such as the Community Foundation of the Ozarks and the Multipli Credit Union, which have partnered to provide no-interest loans to federal employees in their region.
  • Protecting national parks: The National Parks Foundation has started the Parks Restoration Fund to provide resources to repair damages that occurred during the shutdown.
  • Supporting legal aid: Legal aid is critical for low-income people who are threatened with eviction or foreclosure or repossession of the car they need to get to work when the government reopens. Voices for Civil Justice can assist donors in determining which communities require the greatest support from legal aid and which organizations are working locally.

This shutdown is now the longest-running in US history, so we are truly in uncharted waters here in terms of needs. As we hear of other needs emerging that the philanthropic community can help address, we will continue to follow up.

Arabella Advisors thanks the speakers and our co-hosts for sharing their time and expertise and helping to make this webinar possible. Again, you can listen to the full webinar here.

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