Recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, are being urged to budget their resources carefully after receiving their February benefits weeks earlier than usual.
Niki Forbing-Orr, public information manager for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said because of the partial government shutdown, several states opted to issue February food stamps Sunday. Food stamps are usually issued during the first 10 days of the month.
Although there has been no official word that March food stamps are in jeopardy if the federal spending impasse continues, some states are warning that benefits for March may not be available.
“People are probably worried about it; we just don’t have any information at this point about the March benefits,” Forbing-Orr said. “Everybody eligible for food stamps for February will receive those February benefits.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced earlier this month that it found a way to pay out $4.8 billion in February SNAP benefits using an obscure budgetary provision in an expired continuing resolution. But the plan required benefits to be distributed to recipients by Jan. 20.
The early payments also mean it could be 40 days or longer before additional money is added to recipients’ benefit cards. There is also no guarantee about when nearly 39 million low-income Americans will next receive another payment to help them buy groceries.
Forbing-Orr said her department is encouraging SNAP recipient to “budget food stamps as long as possible,” and also encouraging people to consider making donations to local food banks.
“Because as people run out of their food stamp benefits, I would imagine they will be looking to community resources to help fill the gaps,” she said.
Whitney Slade, public relations officer for the Idaho Food Bank, confirmed that more people have been contacting the agency with questions about government assistance programs during the spending lapse.
“We do help people who most likely receive help from those programs, and we have seen some folks in with questions who are also federal or furloughed employees or contractors,” Slade said.
The agency also has noticed an increase in traffic to its website from people seeking food assistance locators.
“If people are wanting to help their neighbors, we absolutely encourage them to reach out to their local food pantry,” Slade said.
People can find information about food pantries by logging on to the Idaho Food Bank website and typing in their ZIP code in the locator map, she added.
Letters to SNAP recipients were sent by first-class mail Wednesday. Department staff members also have been communicating with grocery stores and other community partners about the schedule change.
If recipients have questions about the early issuance or SNAP benefits in general, they can call the Idaho CareLine by dialing 2-1-1 in Idaho or the Self-Reliance call center at (877) 456-1233.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is administered by the Division of Welfare in the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Benefits are paid entirely with federal funds.
According to the USDA website, the SNAP program serves a broad spectrum of low-income people. In fiscal year 2015, SNAP provided about $270 million dollars in food benefits to a monthly average of 196,872 people in Idaho.
During that same time, SNAP provided about $1.53 billion dollars in food benefits to a monthly average of 1,070,933 people in Washington.
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