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Officials: SNAP funded through February, despite shutdown

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    President Donald Trump addresses the nation about border security, on the 18th day of the government shutdown, from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Jan. 8, 2019.
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    Dustin Rigsby holds the electronic debit card he uses to buy food, his benefits from what is officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, in his living room in Dyersburg, Tenn. as his son Drake looks on on Thursday, August 15, 2013. Twin County officials are concerned about the effect the partial government shutdown, which is in its 20th day, will have on benefits like SNAP. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the administration will fund SNAP through February.
January 10, 2019 12:15 am

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The partial federal government shutdown could pause social services such as food stamps, but officials said such benefits are funded through February.

The effects of the shutdown, which stretched into its 20th day today, include delayed mortgage applications, public companies unable to get approval to raise capital and thousands of Secret Service agents expected to show up for work without pay. It has affected about 800,000 federal workers, many of whom will miss their first paycheck this week, and who owe a combined $249 million in monthly mortgage payments, according to online real estate firm Zillow.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced late Tuesday afternoon that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide states with funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, through February to stave off effects of the partial government shutdown with no end in sight.

Greene County Department of Social Services has 2,086 SNAP cases and 4,415 individuals receiving the assistance.

“The situation is changing pretty rapidly,” Greene County DSS Commissioner Kira Pospesel said Wednesday. “We are good until at least the end of Februrary. We will see if anything happens until then.”

The Home Energy Assistance Program, a federal program that provides heating assistance to low-income people, has been fully funded for the season, which Pospesel said is at its peak. Departments of social services started accepting applications for emergency help through HEAP on Jan. 2.

The Greene County Department of Social Services received 1,095 applications for HEAP assistance in November when the program opened for the year, representing 2,203 individuals.

“The shutdown puts these benefits at risk — it puts them at great risk,” Columbia County Department of Social Services Commissioner Robert Gibson said. “We have a plan that will take us through February, but I am concerned. I have been hopeful that cooler heads will prevail and the issues that caused this shutdown will be resolved so we can keep these programs open.”

Columbia County manages 3,229 total SNAP cases, which represents 5,316 individuals. The county also processed 836 Regular Heap benefits and 33 emergency benefits to date with 123 regular benefits pending.

The USDA is working with states to issue February benefits earlier than usual, Perdue said. The department plans to use a provision of the stop-gap appropriations legislation — passed last year, but expired Dec. 22 — that provides an appropriation for programs like SNAP and child nutrition to incur obligations for program operations within 30 days after its expiration.

States will have 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 executed.

“We want to assure states and SNAP recipients that the benefits for February will be provided,” Perdue said. “Our motto here at USDA has been to ‘Do Right and Feed Everyone.’ With this solution, we’ve got the ‘Feed Everyone’ part handled and I believe that the plan we’ve constructed takes care of the ‘Do Right’ part as well.”

At the heart of the shutdown is an impasse between Democrats in Congress and President Donald Trump regarding the administration’s request for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the southern border of the U.S. and Mexico.

Trump has said he will not sign a spending bill that does not provide the funding for the wall and Democrats have refused to provide funding. The House of Representatives passed a stop-gap bill Jan. 3 that does not include funding for a barrier along the border, but would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8 and the government through September.

Perdue made his announcement hours before Trump addressed the American people and federal legislators Tuesday night from the Oval Office to acquiesce his border wall funding request.

“Now is the time — this is the moment — to finally secure the border and create the lawful and safe immigration system Americans, and those wanting to become Americans, deserve,” Trump said.

In his address, the president repeated his assertion that the situation at the country’s southern border is a crisis.

“To every member of Congress: Pass a bill that ends this crisis,” he said. “This is a choice between right and wrong — justice and injustice. This is about whether we fulfill our sacred duty to the American citizens we serve.”

U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, who was sworn into office Jan. 3, repeatedly called the shutdown irresponsible. The Congressman reiterated his feelings after signing onto legislation Tuesday to direct the Congressional Budget Office to analyze and report the effects of the shutdown on the nation’s economy.

“The irresponsible government shutdown is now putting at risk families’ ability to put food on the table,” Delgado said Wednesday. “From kids to seniors across the district, the SNAP program provides essential benefits. While I’m glad that the Department of Agriculture will at least continue benefits through next month, the agency needs to lay out its plans for how it is processing applications, communicating with families in the program and addressing the lapse of funding if the government shutdown continues.”

The New York Times contributed to this report.