SNAP benefits threatened if federal government shutdown continues

UPDATE: The USDA announced Tuesday night that they will ensure that all SNAP recipients receive full benefits through the month of February. In doing so, they will not have to dip into $3 billion in reserve funds, which would have been necessary to partially fund the program, absent this new proposal. As of now, if the shutdown continues into March, no federal funding has been allocated for SNAP.

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With no end in sight for the federal government shutdown, millions of Americans are starting to wonder: What happens to SNAP?

The Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) provides funding for 40 million low-income Americans, allowing them to purchase foods each month with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. More than 120,000 people in Monroe County alone benefit from SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

The most recent resolution funded the U.S. Department of Agriculture ensured that January SNAP benefits would be provided without interruption. Problems, however, could arise if the shutdown extends into February. Of course, the state and local agencies tasked with disbursing SNAP benefits also face an administrative nightmare due to the uncertainty surrounding this shutdown.

There is a $3 billion reserve fund that can be used to support the program in February, however monthly benefits nationwide run at approximately $5 billion — meaning there would be a likely shortfall and decrease in benefits unless localities are able fund the gap.

Foodlink Chief Program Officer Mitch Gruber has expressed Foodlink’s dissatisfaction with the shutdown and SNAP uncertainty in various interviews with 13 WHAM, WXXI and WDKX this week. If Rochester-area residents begin to lose a portion or all of their benefits, they become more heavily reliant on the emergency food system — the shelters, pantries and soup kitchens that Foodlink supports. Any disruption to SNAP would lead to an increased need at these emergency food providers — a need that food banks around the country may not be able to accommodate. (SNAP provides more than 10 times the number of meals than the entire Feeding America network of 200 food banks provides on an annual basis.)

Foodlink’s Curbside Market also accepts SNAP as a form of payment, and many customers use their EBT cards to shop at our market each week. Any cuts to SNAP would clearly impact our customers, and their ability to purchase healthy food for themselves and their families.

SNAP began in the 1960s with the lofty goal to utilize “the Nation’s abundance of food … to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population and raise levels of nutrition among low-income households.” SNAP has a strong, evidence-based track record in effectively meeting this goal. In fact, SNAP helped more than 8.4 million people lift themselves out of poverty in 2015 (the most recent year available).

Foodlink is urging our elected officials to end the shutdown, so families across the country can have greater certainty about putting food on the table.

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