Early food stamp benefits due to shutdown
February SNAP payments issued early but have to last through end of next month
Most food stamp benefits for February became available on Thursday, January 17, as a result of the federal government shutdown, worrying New York City and state officials that the money will be spent too quickly to last through next month. They're not even sure March benefits will be paid out at all.
State and City officials warn that the 2.7 million New Yorkers who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP, could get their electronic payment ahead of schedule, mistake it as a bonus, and use it up all at once.
“New Yorkers receiving their February SNAP benefits early need to carefully plan their food budgets as this will need to last through the entire month,” said Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Samuel D. Roberts in a January 14 press release and on Facebook. OTDA also published a list of questions and answers about how the shutdown affects SNAP.
About 1.6 million low-income New York City residents, including families, seniors and people with disabilities, rely on SNAP. More than a third of the households getting SNAP, have children. The state says NYC residents who do not get their February benefits early will receive them next month on their regularly scheduled day.
“We are in the longest federal shutdown, but New Yorkers who use SNAP benefits don't need to worry. SNAP is funded through February, so hundreds of thousands of people will be able to continue to put food on the table,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio's Office on Twitter.
SNAP case managers at the New York Common Pantry in East Harlem are telling clients they must make the benefits last until March. But that's highly unlikely, says Muhammad Al-Amin, the agency's Director of Social Services. “First of all, that monthly allotment is usually not enough to cover food expenses, so that's always challenging,” he says. “And now you're asking people to stretch it out even longer. That would be a tough go.”
In New York City, SNAP benefit cards are refilled as late as the second week of the month, based on the last digit of the client's case number. Even if the shutdown ends next month, and March payments arrive as scheduled, February's benefits may have to last “potentially six, or as many as seven weeks, whereas most people are used to four,” says Sherry Tomasky, communications director at Hunger Solutions NY, an advocacy organization based in Albany.
New York State's OTDA has no information from Washington about SNAP benefits for March, says a spokesman, who referred that question to the partially-shuttered USDA. “We will continue to work closely with the federal government during the shutdown,” and provide updates when available, he said.
But last Thursday, Jan. 17, Mayor de Blasio warned of a “full blown crisis” if the shutdown continues. Beginning in March, the City will lose a half billion dollars a month in direct support for New Yorkers, including the City's SNAP beneficiaries, school children and seniors. “We're watching as the federal government starts to starve its people,” de Blasio said.
Right now, the USDA has about $3 billion left that it could use toward March's SNAP benefits, less than two-thirds of the monthly $4.8 billion cost, not including expenses USDA pays the states to administer the program. Some hunger-relief advocates say the shutdown could result in reduced SNAP benefits for the nearly 39 million beneficiaries nationwide.
That would also have a ripple-effect on the places where New Yorkers buy food, including many independent groceries and convenience stores. Every dollar of SNAP generates about $1.70 in economic activity, says Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks across the country.
To make matters worse, more than 2,500 stores nationwide failed to get their applications and recertification to accept SNAP when the shutdown started. They cannot serve customers who pay with SNAP.
Meanwhile, the New York Common Pantry has opened its doors to furloughed and unpaid federal workers affected by the shutdown. It has already served 13 workers, with 27 family members, in all.
For questions about SNAP benefits:
NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA)
Call: 311 or HRA's Infoline at 718-557-1399 or
For more information: http://otda.ny.gov/share/Shutdown-SNAP-Questions-Answers.pdf
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