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breaking news

Local foodbanks, breweries feeling effects of government shutdown

Published: Friday, January 11, 2019 @ 5:00 AM

Democrats take control of the House of Representatives today...the first time they've held the majority in either chamber of Congress since 2015. Today is also Day 13 of the partial government shutdown...and the Democrats are expected to introduce legislation to end the shutdown. Video courtesy of CBS News.

Many residents and businesses throughout Butler and Warren counties are continuing to feel the effects of the partial government shutdown with questions about how quickly they can recover once it ends.

The United States Department of Agriculture announced this week it would continue to fund federal food assistance programs through the end February despite the political stalemate.

Two programs operated by Shared Harvest Foodbank — The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program — are both programs of the USDA, whose essential staff is furloughed during the shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, 2018.

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Truckloads of food that the foodbank ordered for food pantries and its Senior Box Program will continue to be delivered through mid-February, according to Tina Osso, executive director of Shared Harvest, which serves 150,000 families in Butler, Warren, Preble, Darke and Miami counties.

“We do not know (about what happens) after that, if the government is still shut down, because there’s no one at USDA processing any of the invoices to pay the vendors or the truckers, so they’re not going to continue to ship food out of their inventory or use their staff and fuel and trucks, if they’re not being reimbursed,” Osso said.

The federal government does provide for a certain amount of cost reimbursement, she said. Shared Harvest was reimbursed last week for October and November.

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“They say there’s money to be reimbursed for December for the TEFAP side, but not for the Commodity Supplemental or Senior Box Program side,” she said. “We have enough food in inventory to carry us through about mid-March, (but) the problem is even if the government comes back online within the next couple of weeks, it’s going to take four to six weeks for them to catch up. The question is, what happens between now and then?”

USDA food accounts for all of Shared Harvest’s Senior Box Program and about 30 percent of food served at food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.

“Is there a way to make up that? Absolutely not,” Osso said. “We are hitting the donor market as hard as we can.”

Those who need to apply for national food program SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), including those who have missed paychecks during the government shutdown, also may face delays in being approved, she said.

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Of the 150,000 families that Shared Harvest serves each year, about half use SNAP, also known as food stamps. That means if federal funding is cut, the food bank will be their only source for nutrition, Osso said.

“At this point, we’re looking at the inventory that we have, what we expect to come in the next four to six weeks, and how long we can manage that inventory to make it last until there’s replenishment in the pipeline,” she said.

Breweries and beer drinkers, too, are already feeling the impact of the government shutdown because of the affect on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or the TTB, which regulates the alcohol beverage industry.

Breweries not only must apply for a permit and garner approval from the TTB before they can start operations, they must get new beers approved through the TTB before they can make them available to the public.

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Those processes have been put on hold, which could delay of the opening of some new breweries and the flow of new brands to shelves.

The shutdown is already affecting Monroe-based Rivertown Brewing Company, which “launches new beers all the time,” according to founder and owner and brewmaster Jason Roeper.

New brews created there can be sold in the taproom but not packaged for sale until the TTB signs off on labeling. That means a batch made for Dayton-based brewery Nowhere in Particular remains in limbo inside of Rivertown’s tanks.

“I’ve got a big investment just sitting there that I can’t get a label approval for,” Roeper said. “We had submitted everything before the shutdown happened and there’s a wait period.

“We’re stuck with about $12,000 sitting in our tank that we can’t do anything with,” he said.

The government shutdown also means breweries that use anything beyond the four basic ingredients — grain, hops, yeast and water — also must wait to file for federal formula approval before they can sell their beers.

Once the federal government reopens, the backlog is likely to lead to a “very, very long waitlist” because many breweries are vying for the same approval, Roeper said.

Approximately 6o to 70 percent of what Rivertown produces is packaged, and the remainder goes into draft, he said. The bulk of the actual business is what’s sold in its Monroe taproom. However, it does “ship quite a bit of volume,” between 20 to 25 percent, out of state.

If the shutdown continues, it’s likely to impact Rivertown’s new brews, and with it, new opportunities, Roeper said.

“Without that approval, we just don’t want to take the financial risk,” he said. “We’re pretty much shut down on that side. Just like the government’s shut down, we’re shut down.”

A continued shutdown also is likely to have an effect on brewery workers.

“I’m shifting work around to keep them busy but, from the same token, the longer this goes on, it’s going to impact workers,” he said. “You can’t have them sit there and not be able to pay for their salaries.”