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Here's what happens to food stamps and other federal food programs during the government shutdown

SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, will be paid during the current government shutdown — for now.
SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps, will be paid during the current government shutdown — for now. Robert F. Bukaty/AP Images

  • The government shutdown is in its 32nd day and there is no end in sight.
  • The US Department of Agriculture will still send out Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, benefits for January and February despite the shutdown.
  • The USDA's Child Nutrition Programs will also be funded into February, but it is unclear what will happen if the shutdown continues after that.
  • Other food programs such as Commodity Supplemental Food Program and WIC will not receive federal funding during the shutdown, but may continue using state and local funds.

With no sign of ending anytime soon, the government shutdown is starting to take its toll on federal services and workers. But for recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps, there is some good news - for now.

According to a plan released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), SNAP benefits will be available during the start of the shutdown as previously appropriated funding is carried over to meet the needs of the program.

In the initial USDA release about the shutdown, the department said SNAP benefits for January would be available but there was no commitment for February. In a later announcement, the USDA said that the department will send money for February's benefits to states that administer the program.

Benefits for the month of February have already been sent out, well ahead of the typical timing. Usually the funds would go out on or after February 1, but in order to ensure that the money is available the USDA told state agencies that administer the program benefits had to be sent out by January 20.

USDA officials could not commit to providing SNAP benefits in March and it appears unlikely that the funds will be there if the shutdown were to run that long.

Given the fact that President Donald Trump threatened to shut the government down for "months or even years" during a meeting with congressional leaders on Friday, the uncertainty of SNAP benefits beyond February could become a problem for the millions of people who rely on the program.

Another problem has popped up with the SNAP benefits as well. Around 2,500 retailers are unable to renew their licenses to accept the SNAP payments, meaning customers in those stores can't use their Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, cards to purchase groceries.

Sarah Jackson, an employee at a store in Arkansas, told PBS that her store's license expired during the shutdown and the retailers did not make the cutoff to renew the license to accept SNAP benefits.

"Because of an argument about a wall, I have to look people in the eyes every day and tell them they can't pay for their food, for their children's food," Jackson said.

The USDA said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune that only a small group of stores have lost their ability to accept SNAP benefits and the stores themselves were responsible for the problem.

"There is a small percentage of stores that failed to complete a required reauthorization process that was due on December 21," the spokesperson said. "Due to non-response, those stores were removed from the program, per standard procedure. These stores can take steps to update their status once FNS funding is restored and the necessary staff are in place to process the applications."

Funding for the USDA's Child Nutrition Programs including "School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk" will also continue into mid-February, according to the USDA's plan, but it is also unclear what will happen after that point.

Some school districts around the country are scaling back their food offerings due to the extended shutdown, as it is unclear when funding could run out. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted on January 18 that school lunch programs are funded through March since they are paid for quarterly.

Read more: Here's what happens to Social Security and disability benefits during a government shutdown»

But while SNAP and the Child Nutrition Program are safe for now, other food programs under the USDA's purview are not as lucky.

Other non-SNAP domestic food programs are no longer receiving federal funding, but may be sustained through state and local funding. The programs that are no longer receiving USDA funds include the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, a program focusing on low-income seniors; The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

95% the staff at the office of Food and Nutrition Services- which oversees SNAP benefits and other food programs - is now on furlough and no longer receiving pay.

Read more: The effects of the shutdown are only going to get exponentially worse as the fight drags on»

In addition to the food programs, other essential USDA duties including the inspection of eggs, dairy, and other food products will continue. Those services deemed non-essential, such as research or the staffing of some national forests, are discontinued.

The shutdown is now in its 32nd day and there is no clear end in sight.

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