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County to open this weekend to process food stamps

January 14, 2019

Food stamps are funded through February, but county officials face a tight deadline to ensure benefits are secure.

Corrine Erickson, director of Olmsted County Family Support and Assistance, said county officials were notified Friday that they have until Tuesday to ensure eligibility of residents receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

“I think the challenge for us is going to be getting things done within the new timeline,” she said.

While SNAP funds don’t pass through county agencies, county employees are responsible for verifying eligibility for those receiving federal support through the state.

Erickson said the deadline doesn’t affect everyone with a SNAP card, but it will require some residents to ensure paperwork is filed earlier than usual.

“We think it’s about 1,000 people who may fall into this group,” she said, noting it will be people with reporting requirements or others who are in the process of applying for the federal program.

To meet the new deadline, Olmsted County Family Support and Assistance, 2117 Campus Drive SE, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Workers will process applications, renewals and other paperwork needed to determine February benefits.

Anyone needing to apply or renew an application for benefits must provide accurate documents of income, shelter and asset information, along with personal identification, to process eligibility paperwork.

While the Olmsted County call center also will be open at 328-6500 during the weekend hours, other services will not be available through the office on Saturday and Sunday.

County offices will be open normal business hours Monday and Tuesday to process applications, but anyone seeking SNAP benefits after Tuesday will likely not receive them for February.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asked states this week to issue the February benefits on or before Jan. 20 so that they can be paid to the nearly 40 million Americans in the program, if the federal government shutdown continues. SNAP is already fully funded for January.

The early deadline could mean people have access to February benefits early, so county staff is encouraging them to budget anything received to last through the month of February.

SNAP will cost roughly $4.8 billion for February, and those funds have already been appropriated through an expired spending bill. But if the shutdown lasts until March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture could be forced to dip into its reserves to help fund the program, and its $3 billion SNAP contingency fund won’t cover a full month of benefits.

Erickson said another option could be a request for state funding to fill any future gaps.

On the housing side of services, Olmsted County Housing and Redevelopment Authority Director Dave Dunn said this week that federal housing support is also in place through February. If the government shutdown continues into March, he said state help might be needed to cover rent funds provided through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Dunn said the Olmsted County Housing and Redevelopment Authority could also opt to use some of its reserves to cover costs until federal funds can be accessed.

He said his department has not seen any changes in HUD requirements for confirming eligibility.

Dunn and Erickson said what will happen in March for federal housing and food programs remains unknown.

The uncertainty means agencies like the Channel One Regional Food Bank are seeking ways to answer potential needs.

“We are in the planning process,” said Channel One Executive Director Virginia Merritt, who said the organization’s goal is to continue to meet the needs of its 14-county region.

She said the agency has the support it needs at this point, but if the shutdown goes beyond February, it could hinder access to government food commodities and federal subsidies used to cover storage and transportation costs.

She said she has faith that community partners will help fill gaps if demand spikes during the shutdown or government support wanes.

Either way, she said the agency is on hand to help people as the need arises and is encouraging anyone needing food help to call.

“We just want people to know we are here for them,” she said.

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