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WTFB ready to assist during partial government shutdown

January 16, 2019

As the government shutdown continues, local agencies like the West Texas Food Bank are stepping up to make sure they are prepared to assist additional clients.

Texas will issue February benefits to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients earlier than usual following the federal government shutdown. The U.S. Department of Agriculture instructed states to request an early issuance of SNAP benefits for the upcoming month given uncertainty of future federal program funding.

Libby Campbell, executive director of the West Texas Food Bank, said SNAP participants will have to adjust their budgets accordingly to make sure the funds last through February. She said there is a concern that recipients might mistake the early issuance as extra funds in their account. The issuance will serve as an advanced payment for recipients and will not grant them any additional funds than what they would have received at a later date.

The decision to disburse payments in January, rather than at a staggered rate throughout the first half of February, was made to give participants an extended period of time to plan and manage their resources. SNAP recipients will see their February benefits automatically loaded onto their Lone Star Cards by Jan. 20, a Health and Human Services Commission news release stated Sunday.

Current participants do not need to take any further action unless they are in the process of renewing their benefits. People seeking renewal and new applicants are advised by HHSC to submit their verification documents as soon as possible.

“We want to assure states, and SNAP recipients, that the benefits for February will be provided,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a prepared statement. “Our motto here at USDA has been to ‘Do Right and Feed Everyone.’ With this solution, we’ve got the ‘Feed Everyone’ part handled. And I believe that the plan we’ve constructed takes care of the ‘Do Right’ part as well.”

SNAP provides food assistance to millions of eligible low-income individuals and families that are about 165 percent below the federal poverty level. Approximately 17,904 people last month received assistance from the program in Ector County, 9,984 of which are 17 years old or younger. The average December SNAP payment in Ector County was $291.

Campbell said WTFB is prepared to assist additional clients during the shutdown.

“As of this point, we’re coming off of the holidays and a successful food drive season,” she said. “We’re lucky we have food on our shelves and seem to be in a good place right now to take on extra clients.”

The WTFB plans to extend help for furloughed federal workers at the Terlingua center, Family Crisis Center of the Big Bend, by providing additional resources to families in need.

“We aren’t sure of the exact number of workers in need, but again, we are prepared to take on those clients and give them support,” she said.

The USDA is relying on the Continuing Resolution to issue the February benefits. Although the legislation expired Dec. 21, a provision allows appropriation for programs like SNAP and Child Nutrition to incur obligations for program operations within 30 days of the Continuing Resolution’s expiration.

“We can only issue benefits as long as there are federal funds available, and it’s unclear from the federal government when that will occur given the shutdown,” Carrie Williams, HHSC chief press officer, said in an email Monday.

Texas will continue to accept and process applications, but any benefits approved after federal funding runs out will be in a suspended status until states receive more information from the federal government about the shutdown’s impact on program funding, the HHSC release stated.

Campbell said agencies are doing their best and everything is a day-by-day changing situation that requires adaptability.

“We’re going to keep our head down and do what we do well, secure lots of food and work with our partner agencies within our program to feed those in need,” Campbell said. “If we have more clients in need we’ll figure it out because that’s what we do.”

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