Northeast Michigan Community Services Agency's food program for low-income seniors will resume after the federal government shutdown caused a brief interruption.
The agency's commodity supplemental food program operations will resume for those already signed up, NEMCSA Food Program Coordinator Debbie Wilds said. A few of the distribution dates have changed across the 11 counties the program serves, but the locations have not.
While the agency originally had been warned by the state it would have to foot the bill for distributing food during the shutdown, now officials are indicating the state will reimburse the agency when the federal government reopens.
The commodity supplemental food program serves around 4,600 people across 11 counties, including Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties, Wilds said. Each month, food boxes are handed out at central locations to low-income seniors who sign up for the program. These boxes are packed in a warehouse in Ossineke with help from the Alpena Youth Volunteer Corps.
"It's really a hard program to do all this monkeying around and delaying because of the nature of the program," she said. "We are resuming operations, however."
Wilds said NEMCSA distributes the food, which comes from the United States Department of Agriculture then to the state's Department of Education Food and Nutrition Services. Since the USDA is affected by the shutdown, Wilds and five NEMCSA employees were laid off for a week.
"The state said, once a (continuing resolution) goes through, we will be reimbursed for our work," she said, adding this would only apply from Tuesday forward.
As a result of the delay, distribution in Alcona County has been rescheduled to Monday. Distribution is set for Thursday in Presque Isle County, Tuesday in Alpena County and Oct. 21 -the regularly scheduled date- in Montmorency County.
If agencies across the state had skipped food distribution for October, the USDA would have cut future allocations as a result of the skipped month since it would've driven down the number of people served this year, Wilds said. She believes this is the main reason the state opted to reimburse the agencies that distribute food during the shutdown.
Although the Alcona County Commission on Aging posted signs at its Lincoln facility that commodities weren't available Monday, some residents didn't get the word.
"I saw at least 10 people here and there were a lot of cars going by with people throwing up their hands when they saw the sign," agency Executive Director Suzan Krey said.
The unnecessary trip also was a hardship on people who drove in from the county's far-flung corners and have little money for gasoline, she said. But commodities will be available for pick up Monday.
Meanwhile, senior residents have been shaken by the sequester, the government shutdown and declining property tax revenues, Krey said.
"We see fear and it's a cruel thing to do to older people," she said. "I don't think anybody's going hungry at this point, but there's a fear of that."
Sequestration had an effect on NEMCSA as well, Wilds said. She had to lay off an employee, and the commodities program's caseload had to be cut by about 220 people.
Aside from sequestration's effects, the program's normal operations will resume in November, Wilds said.
"I'm glad my coworkers and I are back to work," she said.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.