An evangelical church in Alabama handed out $16,500 in grocery store gift cards to local federal workers and contractors struggling to make ends meet during the ongoing partial government shutdown.
The First Baptist Church of Huntsville’s grand gesture on Thursday was part of a wider community-led effort to help furloughed workers in Alabama’s third-largest city, which is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Army’s Redstone Arsenal.
First Baptist’s senior pastor, Travis Collins, told HuffPost that the church emptied out its disaster relief fund ― which held $14,000 ― and collected an additional $2,500 from its members to help fund the charity effort. The church purchased over 300 Publix gift cards from a local grocery store in $50 increments.
Within 30 minutes of opening the church’s doors on Thursday, all the gift cards were gone, Collins said.
The pastor said he was moved by how many people had lined up that morning at his church to receive the cards.
“That was probably the most impactful moment,” he said. “Just seeing that many people who have done the right thing, prepared for a job, got a job, worked at a job and for circumstances beyond their control, now they’re in need of temporary assistance.”
Now in its fifth week, the partial government shutdown was triggered by disagreements between President Donald Trump, who is demanding more than $5 billion for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and Democrats in Congress, who don’t want to allocate any new money for it. The shutdown has affected 800,000 federal workers, about 420,000 of whom must still report to work, even without being paid.
Meanwhile, the aftershocks of the shutdown are continuing, and spreading. From the AP:
As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history stretches into a fifth week, millions of poor Americans who depend on food and rental assistance are becoming increasingly worried about the future. Most major aid programs haven’t dried up yet. But each day the stalemate in Washington drags on, the U.S. inches closer to what advocates call a looming emergency. Those dependent on the aid are watching closely under a cloud of stress and anxiety…
…The USDA announced earlier this month that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food aid to roughly 40 million Americans, will be fully funded through February. But should the shutdown stretch into March its status is unclear: With just $3 billion in reserves, the USDA won’t be able to cover the roughly $4.8 billion it pays in monthly benefits.
The department was able to stretch the program for another month based on a loophole in a spending bill. But as a result of congressional rules, food stamp benefits allotted for February are being given out early, before Jan. 20. There is no guarantee recipients will get food stamps for March, but if even if the program continues without a lapse recipients would have to stretch their current allotment for at least six weeks, rather than four.
The impact of any lapse in these programs would be dramatic and unprecedented: The USDA says there has never before been a break in food stamp benefits since the program was made permanent in 1964.
Pray for all affected by this.