Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients will receive their February benefits early under an action the Trump administration is taking to ensure it has the money to cover the cost of the assistance during the ongoing government shutdown.
The benefits will be put on recipients’ EBT cards no later than Jan. 20, said Brandon Lipps, USDA's acting deputy undersecretary for food, consumer and nutrition services.
Administration officials believe they have legal authority to fund the February SNAP benefits if the money is released by Jan. 20, or within 30 days of the Dec. 21 expiration of a stopgap spending bill that triggered the shutdown, said Lipps.
It is only a one-time fix: USDA doesn't have the money to cover the March benefits, but Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says Congress has “ample time to act and send the president an appropriations bill that he is able to sign” to end the shutdown.
SNAP benefits total about $4.8 billion a month, but USDA has only $3 billion in its contingency fund for the program. Releasing the February benefits early will allow the department to avoid touching the $3 billion.
Lipps said that USDA has previously released benefits early in cases of natural disasters.
The department is reaching out to states to begin the process of distributing the February benefits and also will work with states to ensure that SNAP recipients won’t have to go more than 40 days before they receive their March benefits, he said.
Congressional Democrats had been using the potential for a lapse in SNAP benefits in February to pressure Trump to reach a deal to fund the government without his demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding.
Some 128 House Democrats signed a letter to Perdue on Tuesday demanding to know how he planned to manage the program if the shutdown runs beyond January, and how the department planned to go about rationing the remaining funding.
“A continuation of the government shutdown would cripple the program and prevent millions of people from accessing basic food assistance,” said the letter organized by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
DeLauro slammed USDA’s fix as a “haphazard, politically-motivated attempt to continue President Trump’s ill-conceived shutdown. This proposal shifts responsibility from the Trump administration to State SNAP agencies, who must now rush to get benefits out by Jan. 20.”
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