WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address reports he received that retailers can’t renew their licenses to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits as the longest government shutdown in the nation’s history continues.
The federal government has been in a partial shutdown for 32 days. Before this, the longest shutdown lasted 21 days in 1995 and 1996 under President Bill Clinton, with many government employees furloughed and many others working without pay.
Casualties of the shutdown include offices that process licenses for retailers to accept SNAP benefits, previously called food stamps, which help low-income families put groceries on their tables.
Delgado wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Jan. 18 asking him to resolve the issue, saying he was made aware of the problem by a local grocery store owner in the district.
“Families and seniors rely on SNAP benefits to get by,” Delgado said. “But if they technically have the benefits and are unable to use them, they are utterly useless. I urge the Department of Agriculture to immediately extend expired EBT licenses for the duration of the shutdown so that no American will go hungry.”
As of Tuesday, Delgado’s office had not received a response from the USDA. The USDA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“Our retailers expect a significant backlog of license applications after the shutdown ends,” said Michael Durant, president of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, which advocates for a large spectrum of food retailers including all the major companies in the Capital Region. “If you had a license before the shutdown you are OK, but if you are a new store, or applicant, that is where the problem is.”
Durant has not heard any compliants from retailers represented by the organization.
Perdue announced Jan. 8 that the USDA would continue to fund SNAP through February, allaying the fears of local departments of social services and beneficiaries.
The Greene County Department of Social Services has 2,086 SNAP cases and 4,415 individuals receiving the assistance. Columbia County manages 3,229 total SNAP cases, which represents 5,316 individuals.
USDA is working with states to issue February benefits earlier than usual, Perdue has said. The department plans to use a provision of the stopgap appropriations legislation - passed last year, but expired Dec. 22 - that provides an appropriation for programs such as SNAP and child nutrition to incur obligations for program operations within 30 days after its expiration.
States had until Jan. 20 to request and implement early issuance of SNAP benefits. The February benefits will be made available to SNAP participants when the early distribution is carried out.
The shutdown began Dec. 22 when Congress failed to pass legislation to temporarily fund the government. The shutdown is wearing on as President Donald Trump and Democratic lawmakers, who now hold the leadership in the House of Representatives, refuse to compromise about funding for the construction of a security wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump asked Congress to provide $5 billion to build the wall, but Democrats in the House passed a stopgap spending bill Jan. 3 that would fund the department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8 and the government through September without money for a wall.
Trump offered Democrats over the weekend a deal: Restored protections for people brought to the country illegally as children under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program in exchange for funding for a wall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rejected the proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Republicans introduced a stopgap bill Tuesday that included Trump’s request.