As the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history continues, nearly 40 million low-income American households are slated to receive payments for their February food stamps several weeks early in an effort to avoid the funding issue resulting from the shutdown.
According to Politico, both states and grocery store chains are currently scrambling as this isn’t something that has ever happened before.
To date, there are just shy of 40 million people enrolled in the SNAP (Supplemental National Assistance Program) across the United States. Panic started to set in when news broke that funding would run out for the food stamp’s program for February because of the shutdown. Things calmed just a little when Trump’s administration announced a plan to pay out the nearly $5 billion in February benefits.
While the contract for SNAP program funding did expire in December, the contract is required to continue to provide funding for 30 days after it expires. The Agriculture Department officials and the Trump administration are using this loophole to push out February benefits early, so they go out before the 30 days after the contract’s expiration passes.
In exactly a week – on January 20 – the SNAP program will issue February’s benefits early.
While those who weren’t sure where the money for food was going to come from next month now have relief, the change in the food stamp payment schedule still creates a few logistic issues.
In most states, the food stamp program pays out benefits on a staggering schedule throughout the whole month. In the state of Indiana, for example, there are some recipients normally wouldn’t even have their January benefits by January 20. So, there is a bit of confusion regarding if those individuals would get both January and February benefits early.
If the govt does not fully reopen by Feb. 1, nearly 270,000 rural families who receive federal rent subsidies through the Agriculture Dept would be at risk of eviction because their landlords would no longer be paid. https://t.co/bruFC3ys0v— Jake Bernstein (@Jake_Bernstein) January 10, 2019
Naturally, many have also begun to panic about where funding for the months after February will come from.
Grocery stores have also started to scramble and panic as they prepare for the sudden influx in buyers who will have food stamp benefits earlier than planned by making sure their shelves are stocked and that they have extra employees on staff to handle the chaos.
Politico also reports some states are electing to issue their SNAP benefits even earlier than January 20 because that date falls on a Sunday of a holiday weekend. Some states made the decision to issue their stamps a few days prior on January 18 instead.
While the USDA has been without funding since December when the shutdown started, they are continuing to take applications for the SNAP program. Individuals in need, however, are encouraged to get their applications in before January 20.