On December 22, 2018, key parts of the federal government shut down as a result of leadership gridlock over President Trump’s request for 5 billion dollars in funding for a US-Mexico border wall. With no compromise in sight and the longest shut down in US history, 800,000 federal employees and nine different departments, including the Department of Agriculture (USDA) which is responsible for administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), continue to be affected.
SNAP, the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, helps put food on the table for millions of low income Americans, including 537,000 Mississippians. If the government shutdown continues, 1 in 6 Mississippians could experience major food assistance cut backs. More than 75% of SNAP beneficiaries in MS are in families with children.
On January 8th the USDA announced plans to help state agencies keep SNAP operational through February 2019 without cuts to benefits by encouraging states to make February benefits available by January 20th. For now, the USDA states that the program will operate as it would normally with the exception that February benefits will be issued early, on January 20th. Under the direction of the USDA, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) plans to issue February benefits to some households by January 20th; however, households who have submitted SNAP recertification applications and have not been processed or approved by January 15th can expect their normal scheduled payment of benefits in February with no early issuance. With limited funds available after January 20th, MDHS indicated that they will continue to process applications as they are received and distribute funds based on availability of federal dollars. Families that receive payments on January 20th will not receive another payment until their normal scheduled distribution in March. Officials are encouraging clients to do their best to make their benefits last through February.
Unfortunately, USDA’s commitment to fund SNAP benefits to recipients through February does not extend to retailers who did not have the opportunity to recertify with USDA prior to the shutdown. As a result of the lack of certification, 2500 retailers nationwide are unable to accept SNAP payments until the government re-opens. If the shutdown continues, delayed SNAP payments could place additional strain on local emergency food assistance providers, like food banks and food pantries, as well as negatively impact some 3600 SNAP retailers/business owners in Mississippi.
The USDA does not have the authority to extend SNAP benefits in March without congressional action, putting thousands of Mississippi households at undue risk for hunger and hardship. Our congressional leaders have a responsibility re-open the government and ensure that millions of Americans (not just SNAP recipients) are not at risk for financial hardship and hunger.
Ask your senator to go to Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the White House and demand the government re-open to stop the threat on federal programs that put food on the table for children and families in Mississippi.
Cindy Hyde-Smith: (202) 224-5054
Roger Wicker: (202) 224-6253
Kathryn Rehner is a policy associate with the Mississippi Center for Justice.