January 19, 2019

Warner, Kaine Voice Concerns About the Status of Food Stamp Program In Light of Government Shutdown

~ Letter encourages USDA Secretary to ensure continued funding for the program, which provides aid to 776,000 Virginians ~

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter today to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, stressing the importance of sustained funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The lawmakers expressed concern with the agency’s ability to support states and grocery stores, following a decision by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue February SNAP benefits weeks ahead of schedule. The letter also highlights a lack of guidance for recipients who may be forced to go without the assistance if the government shutdown persists beyond the month of February.

USDA has been particularly impacted by the partial government shutdown. Nearly 95 percent of USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) workers have been furloughed, affecting the agency’s ability to run SNAP—a program that 776,000 Virginians rely on to meet their basic nutritional needs. SNAP keeps more than 150,000 Virginians, including 79,000 children, out of poverty every year by granting families and individuals access to nutritious foods.

“Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it was taking the unprecedented step of issuing SNAP benefits a month early to ensure that individuals are able to receive their benefits for February. While we are pleased that USDA was able to identify funds to continue SNAP benefits during the shutdown, we are concerned the agency is not providing adequate support to states and grocery retailers, who are dealing with the massive logistical challenge of distributing SNAP benefits weeks earlier than normal,” wrote the Senators.

The Senators continued, “In addition, we are troubled by the lack of information from USDA about its ability to continue SNAP benefits through March and beyond if this shutdown continues into February… We urge you to provide additional information on other funding options you have at your disposal to continue SNAP payments for March and beyond if the shutdown is not resolved in a timely manner… Given the importance of this program for many of our constituents, we ask that you do all you can to ensure the uninterrupted issuance of SNAP benefits as long as this shutdown continues.”

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary        

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., S.W.

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write today concerning the uncertainty surrounding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the ongoing partial federal government shutdown. Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it was taking the unprecedented step of issuing SNAP benefits a month early to ensure that individuals are able to receive their benefits for February. While we are pleased that USDA was able to identify funds to continue SNAP benefits during the shutdown, we are concerned the agency is not providing adequate support to states and grocery retailers, who are dealing with the massive logistical challenge of distributing SNAP benefits weeks earlier than normal. In addition, we are troubled by the lack of information from USDA about its ability to continue SNAP benefits through March and beyond if this shutdown continues into February.

Every month, approximately 776,000 Virginians receive SNAP benefits to meet their basic nutritional needs. One out of every eleven Virginians received SNAP benefits in 2017 and almost 70 percent of SNAP participants were households with children. According to Michael McKee, CEO of Virginia’s largest food bank, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, a funding lapse for SNAP will prevent food banks from feeding thousands of Virginians. Currently, SNAP provides about 12 times the amount of food as the nation’s food banks combined. A lapse in SNAP funding would be devastating for the thousands of Virginians that depend on this program each month. Low-income Virginians should not suffer the consequences of this unnecessary shutdown.

Unfortunately, the ongoing government shutdown has impacted the ability of USDA to carry out this essential program. The Food and Nutrition Service, which processes SNAP benefits, has furloughed nearly 95 percent of its workforce. Even with a fully-staffed agency, it would be a tremendous undertaking for USDA and states to issue SNAP benefits weeks earlier than usual. Given the lack of available staff at USDA, the uniqueness of this situation, and the tight timeline, we are worried about the agency’s ability to support states as they rush to ensure their SNAP recipients receive their February benefits by the January 20th deadline.

Additionally, we are concerned by USDA’s lack of guidance concerning SNAP benefits after February, should the government shutdown continue into next month. Last year, Congress provided USDA $3 billion for a SNAP contingency fund. While not an insignificant number, this fund would likely not cover a full month of SNAP benefits for current users, considering the average monthly cost of the program is $4.8 billion. This means that the nearly 40 million recipients of SNAP do not know when additional funds will be added to their benefit cards after January 20th. We urge you to provide additional information on other funding options you have at your disposal to continue SNAP payments for March and beyond if the shutdown is not resolved in a timely manner.

Beyond providing Virginians access to healthy and nutritious foods, SNAP is one of Virginia’s best tools to fight poverty. The program keeps more than 150,000 Virginians, including 79,000 children, out of poverty annually. Given the importance of this program for many of our constituents, we ask that you do all you can to ensure the uninterrupted issuance of SNAP benefits as long as this shutdown continues.

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

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