Millions could lose food assistance if shutdown drags on

Millions of low-income Americans could have a harder time affording food if the partial government shutdown continues into February.

Posted: Jan 7, 2019 9:58 PM

(CNN) -- Millions of low-income Americans could have a harder time affording food if the partial government shutdown continues into February.

Funding for food stamps, school lunches and nutrition for pregnant women and young children is expected to run out next month if the impasse isn't resolved, experts say.

The largest benefit at risk is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the formal name for food stamps. Nearly 38.6 million Americans depended on this aid to augment their grocery budgets in September, according to the US Department of Agriculture's latest data.

The agency said last month that the program is funded through January, but it has only $3 billion in reserves to cover February. That's less than two-thirds of food stamps' $4.8 billion cost in September.

What the agency would do next is unknown.

If the $3 billion reserve were distributed evenly, that would translate into a roughly $90 cut for the 19.4 million households that receive an average of $245 a month, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"That would put a huge hole in the budget every month for families that have very low incomes and would likely result in severe hardship and hunger," said Dottie Rosenbaum, a senior fellow at the center.

A program that provides food assistance to more than 7 million low-income pregnant women, new mothers and young children is similarly threatened. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children also has federal funding to last only through January, according to the National WIC Association, an advocacy organization. The average cost of a monthly WIC food package is just under $41 per person.

Last week, the agency's Food & Nutrition Service division said it intends to allocate all remaining carryover and unspent funds to state agencies, according to the Rev. Douglas Greenaway, the association's president. Federal officials are working with state agencies to see what other unspent money might be available for reallocation. How much is available and how long the program can continue operating will vary by state, but these actions together would push the cutoff date into February.

"It becomes a make-or-break moment likely in mid-February," Greenaway said.

At that point, it's possible states might not sign up new clients or might stop providing benefits to women who recently gave birth or older children, Greenaway said. They might also provide only one month of benefits, instead of the typical three months.

Child nutrition programs, including school breakfasts and lunches and after-school meals, will continue into February, according to the USDA.

While states partner with the federal government on many food assistance programs, they do not have the funds to cover the federal portion during the shutdown, said James Weill, president of the nonprofit Food Research & Action Center.

The USDA did not respond to requests for comment.

If federal nutrition aid does run dry next month, it will put a big strain on the nation's food banks, which provide groceries to tens of millions of Americans through the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program, donations from the food industry and charitable contributions.

The USDA paid for its shipments through March before the shutdown took effect, said Carrie Calvert, managing director of government relations at Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization. However, the federal agency is no longer reimbursing states for storing and distributing the products, which costs $5.3 million a month.

So far, no problems have been reported. But Calvert is concerned that the funds will dry up if the shutdown is prolonged.

Another issue: If low-income Americans stop receiving their food stamps and other benefits, more will turn to food banks for help -- many of which don't have the resources to handle the additional crush of people.

The Capital Area Food Bank, which annually serves half a million people in the Washington metro area through 450 pantries, is already planning to boost its stocks since it expects to see more clients soon -- both federal workers and contractors who are losing their paychecks and low-income residents who are losing their government aid. It's already getting queries from the food pantries and soup kitchens it serves about whether they can get more supplies.

The shutdown comes at a bad time because the food bank typically has less inventory in January and February, since it receives fewer donations after the holiday season ends. The nonprofit agency is talking to grocery and corporate partners to see if they can hold food drives in coming weeks.

"We just need to be able to provide more," said Radha Muthiah, the food bank's CEO.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Terre Haute
Partly Cloudy
82° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 83°
Robinson
Partly Cloudy
82° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 83°
Indianapolis
Partly Cloudy
80° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 81°
Rockville
Partly Cloudy
82° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 83°
Casey
Partly Cloudy
82° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 82°
Brazil
Partly Cloudy
82° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 83°
Marshall
Partly Cloudy
82° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 83°
A Comfortable Overnight
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1582392

Reported Deaths: 26884
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook60726610902
DuPage1026891351
Will862101080
Lake761221053
Kane65145838
Winnebago38503541
Madison37519564
St. Clair34621558
McHenry32619311
Peoria25609359
Champaign25478182
Sangamon24108264
McLean21470203
Tazewell19477326
Rock Island17502342
Kankakee16409232
Kendall15177104
LaSalle14258273
Macon14134230
Vermilion12805180
Adams12525147
DeKalb11460126
Williamson11116152
Whiteside7759176
Boone753381
Jackson748379
Coles7121109
Ogle699985
Grundy690481
Clinton673597
Franklin658994
Knox6439163
Marion6392135
Macoupin629997
Henry604172
Jefferson5933130
Effingham580980
Livingston560294
Woodford548291
Stephenson534088
Randolph517096
Monroe501098
Morgan477995
Fulton475369
Christian474980
Logan471373
Montgomery459776
Lee452456
Bureau421687
Perry407770
Saline393562
Iroquois389170
Fayette385256
McDonough350855
Jersey318753
Douglas301236
Shelby296943
Crawford294030
Union292445
Lawrence291031
Wayne263956
White259229
Richland254052
Hancock250934
Pike249456
Cass245628
Bond241524
Clark241038
Ford232755
Clay230547
Edgar226844
Carroll223637
Warren218655
Johnson207821
Moultrie206730
Washington203827
Jo Daviess201624
Greene197738
Mason194551
Wabash193715
Massac192643
De Witt191230
Piatt188314
Mercer185434
Cumberland172423
Menard154112
Jasper148718
Marshall132721
Hamilton125720
Brown10127
Pulaski96711
Schuyler9568
Edwards94015
Stark75426
Gallatin7214
Scott6885
Alexander66011
Calhoun6342
Henderson62614
Hardin55413
Putnam5414
Pope4685
Unassigned1192432
Out of IL80

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 918230

Reported Deaths: 15011
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1252491952
Lake623371084
Allen52301746
Hamilton43009443
St. Joseph41155584
Elkhart32831485
Vanderburgh29698436
Tippecanoe26442247
Johnson23106414
Hendricks21708338
Porter21255340
Clark16988222
Madison16899378
Vigo15562272
Monroe14186190
LaPorte13961235
Delaware13613215
Howard13531258
Kosciusko11150134
Hancock10534159
Warrick10431174
Bartholomew10233166
Floyd10099202
Wayne9557216
Grant8858194
Morgan8654158
Boone8231109
Dubois7521123
Henry7391126
Dearborn734186
Noble7208100
Marshall7168127
Cass7060117
Lawrence6803150
Jackson638980
Shelby6386106
Gibson5999105
Harrison587984
Huntington586490
Montgomery5663101
DeKalb555691
Knox532999
Miami523183
Clinton522464
Putnam519067
Whitley509851
Steuben480267
Wabash470192
Jasper465760
Jefferson456091
Ripley439074
Adams435565
Daviess4008106
Scott389563
White383457
Decatur376895
Clay376455
Greene375589
Wells375183
Fayette363074
Posey351841
Jennings341756
Washington324046
LaGrange312074
Spencer310734
Fountain306553
Randolph302087
Sullivan294947
Owen275961
Orange269659
Starke268961
Fulton264451
Jay248134
Perry244950
Carroll239926
Franklin229337
Vermillion225850
Rush225530
Parke212020
Tipton205354
Pike200938
Blackford163834
Pulaski155250
Crawford140818
Benton138316
Newton138141
Brown130646
Martin124416
Switzerland122310
Warren112616
Union92211
Ohio75811
Unassigned0461