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Shutdown puts farmer, customers in a bind

January 21, 2019

CHARLESTON — Sherrie Taylor, a farmer in Mason County, says she has no interest in politics, but the partial government shutdown has left her frustrated.

She sells fresh produce and meats to those in public housing in Kanawha County, many of whom are seniors and families. Taylor goes to about 14 different apartment complexes that each has about 90 people or more living in them.

She accepts EBT, the card that transfers food assistance benefits, which allows an individual to buy double the amount of groceries from Taylor. Families can get triple the amount.

However, for some reason, she now is unable to accept EBT, and with some U.S. Department of Agriculture employees furloughed she can’t get the answers she needs to fix it.

When she called the state’s branch they referred her to the national office where no one answered.

The USDA is not completely shut down, but is working with a bare-bones staff. It was able to secure funding for food stamps until the end of February.

Due to the ongoing partial federal government shutdown, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced earlier this month it would issue food assistance benefits for February ahead of schedule.

But this doesn’t help Taylor with her predicament.

“You can’t even leave a message,” Taylor said. “I can’t start taking EBT until I know what’s wrong, but I have no one to talk to to see what’s wrong.”

Many of Taylor’s customers are elderly, she said. They are often wheelchair users, or use walkers or somehow have limited mobility, making it difficult for them to get to the store.

“They depend on me, but I don’t have anything left and I’m not making enough to pay for gas,” Taylor said.

The drive from her farm to many of the housing units she visits is sometimes an hour or more away. With funds beginning to dwindle, she had to stop making her regular rounds. Although she has credit card and cash sales, she largely relies on customers who use EBT.

But this hasn’t stopped her completely. She still goes out to places she described as more desolate.

She keeps a notebook of names and apartment numbers. It’s a list of people who are in what she calls her “good faith program.” She’ll give them the food they need for no cost, and hopes they’ll pay her back when the shutdown lifts.

“Most people say I’m crazy, but I don’t care,” Taylor said. “People don’t see what I see every day. I worked with the West Virginia Nutrition program... I know how many hungry seniors and children there are every day, not just during shutdown.”

Serena Seen, a family services coordinator for Charleston-Kanawha Housing, said many families were disappointed to hear Taylor couldn’t accept EBT. Since she had matched dollars, it was a particularly good deal for families, Seen said.

“It’s important health wise to have fresh foods available and not just things from a can, but also lots of people live on a budget,” Seen said. “Any kind of program you depend on, you budget into your lifestyle when that’s taken away that impacts your whole budget.”

This is a reality the Taylors are familiar with. The shutdown has affected the Taylors’ household in many ways. Her husband is a federal employee. He’s an “essential worker” but received his paycheck late.

“That’s every dime we got coming in,” Taylor said. “We try not to take money from his paycheck, because we have regular bills to pay.”

Reach Rebecca Carballo at rebecca.carballo@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5189 or follow @Becca_Carballo on Twitter.

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