WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has acted to mitigate the impact of the partial shutdown of the federal government on low-income Americans relying on food assistance programs and on farmers whose incomes were reduced because of the ongoing trade war with China.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Brandon Lipps, acting deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, on Jan. 8 outlined plans to ensure Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits continue to be paid through February and child nutrition programs are funded through March in the event the government shutdown continues.
“At President Trump’s direction, we have been working with the administration on this solution,” Mr. Perdue said. “It works and is legally sound. And we want to assure states, and SNAP recipients, that benefits for February will be provided.”
To protect SNAP participants’ access to benefits in February, the U.S.D.A. will provide the states their federal funding for SNAP benefits and operations for February earlier than usual. Mr. Perdue pointed to a provision of the continuing resolution that expired Dec. 21 that provides means for SNAP and child nutrition programs to incur obligations for program operations within 30 days of the continuing resolution’s expiration. The U.S.D.A. will reach out to the states to instruct them to request early issuance of SNAP benefits for February. States will have until Jan. 20 to request and implement early issuance. Once the early issuances are made, the February benefits will be available to SNAP participants.
The SNAP monthly issuance for February was estimated to be about $4.8 billion, and state administrative expenses were estimated at about $350 million, for a total need of about $5.1 billion.
The U.S.D.A. noted child nutrition programs, including school meals and the Child and Adult Care Food Program, will be able to operate through January with funding provided under the last continuing resolution. The U.S.D.A. said it will provide an additional two months of funding “consistent with the practice of funding these programs on a quarterly basis.”
For the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which serves about 8 million people, the Food and Nutrition Service has identified resources to cover projected state expenditures for February.
“The department will allocate at least $248 million to state agencies this week, and we have identified an additional $350 million in unspent prior-year funds to allocate at a later date,” Mr. Lipps said. “A total of approximately $600 million in funding will be provided to WIC state agencies. We will continue to work with states to make resources available to the extent possible.”
Food deliveries planned for February under the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (C.S.F.P.), a program that provides food assistance for 600,000 low-income seniors, will be made. But the U.S.D.A. noted due to the lapse in federal funding, states have not received their 2019 caseload assignments, so C.S.F.P.-participating states must operate at 2018’s caseload levels. Similarly, states have received no additional administrative funds since the lapse in funding, and none will be made available until the lapse ends.
Food deliveries planned for February (including entitlement, bonus and trade mitigation) under The Emergency Food Assistance Program will continue, but states have received no additional administrative funds since the lapse, and none will be made available until the lapse ends.
Food deliveries planned for February under the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (F.D.P.I.R.) will be made. The U.S.D.A. added F.D.P.I.R. programs have administrative funding through Jan. 31 and are expected to operate the program.
The U.S.D.A. referred to no current plan for continuing food and nutrition assistance programs into March should that prove necessary.
Earlier on Jan. 8, Mr. Perdue, noting Farm Service Agency offices nationwide have closed because of the shutdown, announced the U.S.D.A. would extend the application deadline for farmers seeking direct payments under the Market Facilitation Program. Mr. Perdue said the extension will be for a period equal to the number of business days F.S.A. offices were closed because of the shutdown.
“Farmers who have already applied for the program and certified their 2018 production have continued to receive payments,” Mr. Perdue said. “Meanwhile, I continue to urge members of Congress to redouble their efforts to pass an appropriations bill that President Trump will sign and end the lapse in funding so that we may again provide full services to our farmers and ranchers.”