SNAP recipients may have to ration food for February

State agencies are warning food stamp recipients to carefully budget their grocery purchases once they receive their February benefits weeks earlier than normal due to the partial government shutdown.

The Department of Agriculture’s backup plan for paying out Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits amid the lapse in funding means it could be 40 days — or longer, in some cases — before additional money is added to recipients’ benefit cards. There is also no guarantee about when nearly 39 million low-income Americans will next receive another payment to help them buy groceries.

USDA announced earlier this month that it found a way to pay out $4.8 billion in February SNAP benefits using an obscure budgetary provision in an expired continuing resolution. But the plan requires benefits to be distributed to recipients by Jan. 20.

In Arizona SNAP benefits for February were rolled out early, which means that recipients won’t get any more benefits until March. The Trump administration’s backup plan did not tap into a contingency fund of $3 billion that Congress provided for the program last year. One month of SNAP benefits costs about $4.8 billion, however. USDA has declined to discuss other funding options that might be available if the shutdown is not resolved before it is time to pay out March benefits.

SNAP recipients are being urged to ration their benefits since there is no funding in place for March’s food-stamp allotment due to the government shutdown.