As shutdown drags on, food insecurity hits federal workers, and people chip in - including beer

Food access concerns grow as shutdown continues

WASHINGTON (CNN)- Thousands of furloughed federal workers who are missing a paycheck are having difficulty putting food on the table.

And while many organizations and restaurants are stepping up to help feed those workers, if the shutdown continues, another 42 million people who rely on federal food assistance programs could find themselves struggling to get enough to eat.

The government shutdown is now in its fourth week, and with each missed paycheck, concern about food insecurity rises.

People are even contributing directly to government employees, on sites like “Pay it Furloughed,” which launched during the shutdown and on which people are buying beers for furloughed workers.

"We’re all a little worried. You know, I think a lot of us are looking at part-time work,” said Chel Schweitzer, a worker at the Federal Aviation Administration who has been furloughed during the shutdown.

She’s volunteering at World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit founded by celebrity chef José Andrés that started offering free meals for furloughed workers this week.

"It's good to get out and see people and help people,” Schweitzer said. “And since I have the time…”

Nate Mook, the executive director of the kitchen, said he’d seen increased hardship from people coming in.

"We're hearing heartreaking stories of folks that are really going through a tough time right now, so we're hopeful that we don't have to be here very long,” he said.

World Central is one of several restaurants that are offering free or discounted meals to federal workers facing an uncertain future with no pay.

And at “Pay it Furloughed,” they’re building up a beer fund for employees off the job.

“Stressed out federal employees and contractors, who are furloughed or working without pay, score free liquid therapy,” the site says. “Small businesses hit hard by the shutdown get some relief. And you feel awesome. It’s a win-win-win.”

But the shutdown isn't just affecting the livelihood of federal workers.

“We know already that the Capitol Area Food Bank here has seen a 20 percent increase in people coming to them for help,” said Laura Zeilinger with the D.C. city Department of Human Services.

Food stamp recipients are collecting their funds for February, but beyond that, it’s unclear whether the program can continue if the government is still shut down.

"It's the unknown that has me concerned,” said Sylvia Young, a D.C. resident and recipient of SNAP benefits, the program that administers food stamps.

The Department of Agriculture says it’s working with states to allow recipients to pick up their food stamps earlier than usual for February, and is hopeful Washington can reach a deal soon.

“If they aren’t going to be available in March, I’ll do a lot of praying," Young said.

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