The Shutdown Could Affect Food Stamp Access For Millions If It Continues Much Longer

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Federal workers have already seen the pains of the government shutdown — with some 800,000 people being either furloughed or working without pay. Soon, though, the government shutdown could endanger SNAP food stamp benefits, CBS News reported. That could put the food source of some 42 million Americans at risk.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has enough money for the month of January, and there is another $3 billion in emergency funds for February. But, that is not enough to pay the estimated $4.8 billion bill for the month. President Trump threatened on Friday that the shutdown could continue for months or years.

Dottie Rosenbaum, a senior fellow for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told NBC News that the February budget gap amounts to about $90 taken from each of the 19 million households that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The average monthly payment that families receive is about $245.

"Even if the President and Congress resolve the shutdown by February, depending on the decisions the Administration makes in the coming one to two weeks, households could experience a substantial delay in receiving their full SNAP allotment for February because of the operational challenges that states and EBT contractors face," Rosenbaum told NBC News, underlining the precarious situation the program is in.

In addition to the lack of money, the federal employees who oversee the program are not working during the shutdown. NBC News reported that Food and Nutrition Services employees were nearly all furloughed by the Department of Agriculture.

HuffPost reported that there is a possibility that the USDA would find a legal maneuver to keep the SNAP benefits coming. The program has been passed for the next five years as a part of the farm bill; the only thing that needs to be officially reauthorized now is the money for 2019.

"We are currently looking at options for SNAP," Tim Murtaugh, a USDA spokesperson told The Washington Post. "The best course of action would be for Congress to pass a legitimate appropriations bill to the president to end the lapse in funding."

Many Democratic members of Congress have denounced the potential shortfall. Rep. Karen Bass of California told NBC News that consequences of an ongoing shutdown are dire.

"If the shutdown continues, then you will literally have millions of people that will not be able to afford food," Bass told NBC. "And I think this is just absolutely unconscionable."

Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut told The Washington Post that missed SNAP payments would result in families going hungry. "People in this country will go hungry," DeLauro told the paper. "These are working people. We’re not talking about people who are dogging it."

There could also be an economic impact due to the lack of funding. In 2017, NBC News reported that $63 billion was spent by SNAP recipients. Without those payments, grocery stores could see sales plummet.

Some other federal programs that improve food security have already been cut during the shutdown, CBS News reported. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is not receiving any federal funding during the shutdown, although local and state funding has kept some of those benefits flowing.

For the families relying on SNAP, an ongoing shutdown could literally keep food off the table.