Food stamp funding at risk if shutdown continues

Some fear federal safety net is unraveling for those in need

Some who rely on food stamps are worried their families will go hungry if the shutdown continues.

State officials in Florida and Georgia say people who receive Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT)/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits already received their benefits for February on Jan. 20.

But, at this time, it's unknown if and when March benefits will be distributed.

Several people told News4Jax on Thursday that they are worried about how they'll be able to put food on their tables if they don't get EBT benefits in March. Some said the biggest challenge will be making sure they don’t run out before then. 

EBT and SNAP benefits are crucial for Mary Cordova to buy groceries for her five children and grandchildren. Due to the partial government shutdown, Cordova said, she’s worried if her food stamps will be cut off.

“I got the help because my income isn’t going to be sufficient enough to buy groceries and pay bills for the house and for the kids," she said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced earlier this month that SNAP, which provides food aid to roughly 40 million Americans, will be fully funded through February. But should the shutdown stretch into March its status is unclear: With just $3 billion in reserves, the USDA won't be able to cover the roughly $4.8 billion it pays in monthly benefits.

The department was able to stretch the program for another month based on a loophole in a spending bill. But as a result of congressional rules, food stamp benefits allotted for February are being given out early, before Jan. 20. There is no guarantee recipients will get food stamps for March, but if even if the program continues without a lapse recipients would have to stretch their current allotment for at least six weeks, rather than four.

The impact of any lapse in these programs would be dramatic and unprecedented: The USDA says there has never before been a break in food stamp benefits since the program was made permanent in 1964. 

FAQs regarding EBT/SNAP and the partial government shutdown: Florida | Georgia

Cordova said she’s considering getting a second job so she can continue feeding her family if her EBT benefits run out. 

“Right now I’m already working 40 hours a week to cover that job, but maybe a second job, a part-time job, will cover groceries," she said.

Although she is preparing for the worst, Cordova hopes the shutdown will end soon, so she can continue feeding her family. 

Government officials encourage EBT users who have received their February benefits already to manage them wisely. 

Fresh EBT offers these five tips:

  • Make a shopping list before you go to the store.
  • Avoid buying smaller, individually packaged items.
  • Create a meal plan and stick to it when you are shopping. 
  • Buy less meat -- beans and lentils are cheap, healthy and versatile alternatives -- or buy the meat that's on sale.
  • Avoid buying what's at eye level on the shelves. 
  • Click here for more tips on how you can stretch your benefits.

    About the Authors: