Shutdown Spurs Early Food Stamp Payments Amid Funding Concerns

The partial government shutdown caused the early disbursement of food stamp payments amid concerns about funding shortages.

In a move unprecedented in scale and size, the Agriculture Department’s (USDA) backup plan for bankrolling more than $4.8 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to nearly 39 million people nationwide involves sending out benefits for February by Jan. 20. The partial government shutdown spurred concerns that funding for food stamps might be depleted by February. It could be 40 days or longer before more money is disbursed to SNAP recipients, and there has been no announcement to date of further plans for allotting funds to the program.

Program leaders of CalFresh, California’s SNAP, urged participants to spend the early allotment wisely.  “We are asking everyone receiving CalFresh to please be aware that although benefits are being issued early, they should plan ahead to ensure these benefits last through the month of February,” Pat Leary, Acting Director of the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), stated in a press release. CalFresh benefits for February are scheduled to be issued between Jan. 16-20.

States are still accepting SNAP applications, even though USDA remains unfunded because of the partial government shutdown. New applicants will be processed normally according to state requirements and procedures; early benefits do not apply to them.

If the partial shutdown continues to March, however, funding may run out for SNAP. States with a high concentration of food stamp recipients, such as California and Texas, are warning participants of the tentative nature of funding for March SNAP benefits.

“Unless the federal shutdown is resolved, benefits for March MAY NOT be available,” according to a memo from Kim Wade, Chief of CalFresh and the Nutrition Branch of CDSS. “We are waiting for federal guidance and will keep you informed.”

The change in benefits disbursements puts states on an expedited timeline to communicate changes to SNAP recipients and grocery stores. The memo reads: “Counties must implement client noticing as they would for a mass change. Counties may use existing communication channels to inform clients about early issuance.” These channels include websites, posters, phone calls, press and social media. Individual household outreach was also recommended but not enforced.

Brandon Lipps, Administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to providing food for low-income families, according to Politico. “Americans should have access to food, and we will use all available legal options to make that happen,” Lipps said.

Photo Credit: Fancycrave on Unsplash

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