WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2015 - Republican leaders are laying out a path to keep the government funded after Sept. 30, amid a new problem they didn’t face the last time there was a shutdown two years ago: Senate Democrats disclosed Tuesday that USDA was preparing to delay the transfer of SNAP benefits to 37 states.
GOP leaders have vowed to keep the government running but many conservatives have been insisting on using any continuing resolution (CR) to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. The Senate is set to vote later this week on a CR that would defund the organization. That will surely fail, after which GOP Leader Mitch McConnell plans to offer a clean CR. The issue then moves to the House.
During the 2013 shutdown there was no disruption in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program because USDA had plenty of money on hand, said the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Jeff Merkley of Oregon. That isn’t the case this year, and so USDA notified states last Friday to delay transferring the benefits “until further notice.” The issue affects 37 states where the benefits are uploaded at the beginning of each month.
In response, the Senate Agriculture Committee said USDA had $3 billion in contingency money that should be sufficient to fund benefits for at least two weeks. The committee’s chairman, Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the best way to protect SNAP benefits is for Democrats to vote for the measure that includes the Planned Parenthood defunding. “I’m prepared to do so, and if members are worried about SNAP funding, they should too,” he said
In a statement, USDA said that there was still enough time for Congress to prevent the delay. “However, at this time, prudent management requires that the government plan for the possibility of a lapse and USDA is working with OMB to take appropriate action.”
The Senate CR would fund the government to Dec. 11 and provide an additional $700 million for fighting wildfires. The bill also would continue authorization for the E-Verify system.
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