Stopgap Measure to Reopen Government Will Strain SNAP Recipients

Under the continuing resolution (CR) that provided the funding to reopen the government for three weeks, SNAP (food stamps) now is fully funded at least through March, even if the government shuts down again on February 15. Millions of families, however, face a longer-than-usual gap between their February and March benefits because the Agriculture Department worked with states to issue February benefits early during the shutdown, and that could further strain household budgets, the emergency food network, and other community resources.

The new CR, like the prior CR that expired in December, funds SNAP for the month that begins within 30 days of the CR’s expiration. With the CR that expired in December, that month was January. Under the new CR that expires in February, that month is March.

Presumably, the Administration could use the authority it used to pay February SNAP benefits early to pay April benefits early — in this case, by March 17 — though it hasn’t said it would. Along with SNAP’s $3 billion contingency reserve, that would likely ensure that SNAP could provide full benefits through April. Benefits for May and later months, however, likely would be at risk if the government shuts down again in mid-February.

For many households, the measures that the Administration and states took to protect SNAP in February have created a much longer period between SNAP benefits than the usual 28- to 31-day cycle, as we’ve explained. That’s because states issued February benefits at least ten days earlier than usual and most states stagger their issuance of SNAP benefits throughout much of the month, with some households regularly receiving their benefits in the latter part of the month.

About 15 million households, which include about 30 million people, could face a gap between monthly SNAP payments of more than 40 days. More than 4 million low-income households, including 8 million people, could experience a gap of more than 50 days. Households with gaps of 50 days or longer are located in about half the states, our paper explains.

The unusually long gap between benefit receipt for February and March will cause some households with extremely tight budgets to face even more problems affording food as they await their March benefits. That, in turn, will place more strain on the emergency food network and other community resources, which already are stretched.