SNAP Recipients Will Receive February Benefits Despite Government Shutdown
Although some federal government workers are not being paid during the partial shutdown, area residents who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will receive their benefits for February. It’s unclear, however, if they will continue to receive benefits beyond February and they are encouraged to make the payment last. Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller announced that benefits for SNAP will be dispersed early on Friday and will be available for use by Saturday. The early payment follows an announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture notifying Pennsylvania and other states that benefits will be fully funded for February, but benefits must be paid early. The state Department of Human Services worked with its vendors and will issue February benefits to electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards on Friday. While the early payment allows SNAP recipients to get their benefits for February, Miller said they will have to make the payment last for an undefined period as the shutdown continues. The early payment is SNAP recipients’ February benefit and will be the only benefit payment SNAP recipients will receive for February. Recipients will not receive a payment on their regularly scheduled February payment date. The state Department of Human Services is sending letters and/or emails to SNAP recipients to notify them of this change. According to the department, payments beyond February will be determined based on the availability of U.S. Department of Agriculture funds. The Department of Human Services is awaiting information from the USDA on plans for March benefits should the partial federal government shutdown continue. Miller said the partial federal government shutdown has “real implications for millions of people in Pennsylvania and around the country who use SNAP to keep food on the table.” “Changes in the way people get their benefits and uncertainty regarding future benefits creates confusion and concern that should be avoidable,” Miller said in a news release. “The federal government must come to a solution so people who already face food insecurity do not continue to be caught in the middle of a situation that they did not create.” According to the state Department of Human Services, 60,242 Luzerne County residents and 38,620 Lackawanna County residents were enrolled in SNAP as of December 2018. Statewide, about 1.8 million residents are enrolled. Teri Ooms, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, said a higher percentage of residents in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties are part of the SNAP program than the state as a whole. Each county’s poverty level also is higher than the state average, she said. “Despite the fact that about 40 percent of the recipients are working, they are not earning a family sustaining wage, meaning they cannot meet basic needs of food, shelter, transportation, child care and medical care,” Ooms said. “There are also individuals earning above the poverty level and are not eligible for benefits, yet their wages are not family sustaining. These individuals are the working poor and that number is growing as well.” Miller called SNAP the nation’s most important anti-hunger program and she said without it, 1.8 million Pennsylvanians would have greater trouble affording food for themselves and their families. The Department of Human Services will continue to process applications for all benefits during the shutdown. Recipients should continue to report changes and submit any semi-annual reviews or renewals they receive during this period to not risk an interruption of their benefits in the future. Clients with questions about their benefits can contact their local county assistance office or call the statewide customer service center at 1-877-395-8930. For more information about DHS and its programs, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.