Food stamp benefits are guaranteed through February despite shutdown, USDA says

  • Millions of Americans who depend on food stamps will receive benefits through February despite the government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
  • The USDA is asking states to issue benefits on Jan. 20, earlier than usual, to take advantage of a temporary funding measure.
  • SNAP funding for March is uncertain.
  • The partial shutdown is in its 19th day.

Millions of Americans who depend on food stamps will receive the benefits through February despite the government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the USDA will take advantage of temporary funding to cover the cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for February, estimated at $4.8 billion for the approximately 38 million recipients.

The USDA is asking states to issue February's benefits on Jan. 20, earlier than usual, to take advantage of a 2018 continuing resolution that kept the government funded temporarily as Congress unsuccessfully tried to pass an appropriations bill for fiscal 2019. The CR expired Dec. 21 but allows the government to make payments for 30 days after it expires. SNAP is fully funded for January.

Other nutrition assistance programs including school meals and the Women, Infants and Children program will continue through March, the USDA said Tuesday.

"Our motto here at USDA has been to 'Do Right and Feed Everyone,'" Perdue said in a release. "With this solution, we've got the 'Feed Everyone' part handled. And I believe that the plan we've constructed takes care of the 'Do Right' part as well."

SNAP became a point of contention for lawmakers as Congress struggled to reach a funding agreement. The program has just $3 billion in a contingency fund, prompting fears that food assistance to the most vulnerable Americans would run out as a result of the shutdown.

With the partial shutdown in its 19th day Wednesday, SNAP funding for March was uncertain.