SNAP recipients get February benefits two weeks early, but may see March benefits cut
More than 70,000 Nebraskans have received their February Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps, two weeks early.
The February benefits, totaling $17.3 million, were added to recipients’ electronic cards late last week in order to ensure families get the February benefits before the program runs out of money, according to Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services staff.
But if the government shutdown continues, SNAP recipients may not get their total March benefit.
People who use the SNAP need to understand that the new benefits added to the card must last until early March, when the March benefits will be issued, said Karen Heng, an HHS deputy director.
SNAP benefits are normally added to the electronic card between the first and fifth day of each month, staggered over that five-day period, she explained.
But this month the benefits are being added early because of the government shutdown, she said.
When the shutdown occurred, the SNAP program did not get its normal appropriation. However, the federal Food and Nutrition Service did get enough money to handle the benefits for February, explained Heng.
The Nebraska HHS staff, which determines eligibility for SNAP, had most of the work for Nebraska recipients finished by Jan. 15.
The department is working on the applications of about 500 households that staff was not able to process for the Jan. 15 deadline, Heng added.
Right now there are federal funds to handle the SNAP benefits for these people, Heng said, and they should get their February benefits by Feb. 1.
But that funding will run out if the shutdown continues through February.
Nebraska has a plan in place for notifying the media and partner agencies across the state if it looks as if funding for SNAP benefits will run out, Heng said.
Those partners will help get the word out if SNAP benefits are to be cut, she said.
State employees will continue to do their job determining eligibility for new applicants and the six-month recertification, so that work will be complete whenever the shutdown ends, and SNAP recipients will be able to quickly get their benefits.
For the state, it is business as usual, Heng said.
SNAP benefits, up to $505 a month for a very poor family of three, for example, are income-based.
A family of three can have a gross monthly income of no more than $2,252. However, a family with income near the program’s upper limit would receive a much-lower SNAP benefit, likely less than $100 for a family of three, depending on other family expenses.
Immigrants living in the country illegally are not eligible for SNAP benefits in Nebraska.