Looming SNAP cutoff brings shutdown home to Philly

We’re now in Day 26 of the partial federal shutdown as the government goes without a budget due to Democrats and President Trump’s impasse over his demands for funding for a border wall or barrier with Mexico, and every day, little changes become more apparent.

One of those changes hit many Philadelphians earlier this week, when recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits were alerted that on Friday SNAP benefits for the entire month of February will be transferred early to their EBT cards — and no funds will be forthcoming in February.

“You will not get more benefits in February, so make sure to budget carefully,” reads a message sent to SNAP users.

As the shutdown drags on without an end in sight, that means its unclear when  more SNAP benefits — provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — will be coming.

One SNAP recipient described the message as making them feel like they were in “The Walking Dead,” the post-apocalyptic zombie TV show.

Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller said in an announcement the state is sending letters to all 1.8 million Pennsylvanians who receive SNAP benefits to alert them to the change. Nearly half a million are in Philadelphia – almost a third of the city’s population. Nationwide, 40 million Americans are enrolled in the SNAP program.

“This early payment allows us to get SNAP recipients their benefits for February, but they will have to make this payment last for an undefined period as the shutdown continues,” Miller said in a statement.

DHS said they “awaiting information” from the USDA as to whether or not SNAP funds will be made available for March benefits, depending on how long the shutdown continues.

Miller also took the US government to task for letting SNAP benefits be affected by the shutdown squabble.

“Changes in the way people get their benefits and uncertainty regarding future benefits creates confusion and concern that should be avoidable,” Miller said. “The federal government must come to a solution so people who already face food insecurity do not continue to be caught in the middle of a situation that they did not create.”

Nationwide, the shutdown has led approximately 800,000 federal employees to either go on furlough or work without pay. Some estimates say that about 14 percent of those workers earn less than $50,000 a year. Approximately 12,000 federal workers impacted by the shutdown are in Pennsylvania.

There are more than 800,000 federal employees across the U.S. either furloughed or working without pay, 14 percent of whom make less than $50,000 a year. In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 12,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown.

In the meantime, some food pantry programs like Philabundance are stepping up to offer aid to the public. Visit Philabundance.org for information about getting access to their food pantries.

SNAP recipients in Philadelphia can call 215-560-7226 with questions; outside Philadelphia, citizens call their local County Assistance Office or the statewide customer service center at 1-877-395-8930.

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