February Shutdown Could Deprive 13.9 Million Americans of Food


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                            

Fact Sheet:

February Shutdown Could Deprive 13.9 Million Americans of Food

Or Reduce Average SNAP Benefit to 87 Cents per Meal

  • The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – which, until 2008, was called the Food Stamp Program – is, by far, the largest source of food for the tens of millions of Americans living in or near poverty. SNAP is funded by the federal government, but benefits are actually issued to households by states and – in and some states – by cities and counties.

  • Before the federal government shutdown, approximately 38.6 million Americans were slated to receive $4.8 billion in SNAP benefits in February, which would have been redeemed at 260,000 grocery stores around the nation, many of which are small, mom-and-pop stores. Before the shutdown, average monthly SNAP benefits equaled $1.37 per person per meal.

  • Because of the federal shut-down, the normal funding for SNAP expires at the end of January 2019.Recent news reports have indicated that USDA may still have $3 billion on hand for contingency funds to continue to support SNAP through February. However, since the program was slated to spend $4.8 billion in February, that would mean a reduction in spending of $1.8 billion (36.2 percent) in February alone.

  • It is unclear what guidance, if any, USDA would provide to states or counties about how to slash funding to SNAP in February, especially since 95 percent of the people who run the agency that manages SNAP (the USDA Food and Nutrition Service) are on furlough due to the shutdown. It is equally unclear whether states, counties, and cities that administer SNAP would be able to re-program their computer systems in time to account for the February reductions.

  • If USDA did issue guidance to states and counties to simply cut all households’ SNAP benefits by 36.2 percent in February – and if states, cities, and counties were to do so in time – that would reduce the average monthly SNAP benefit from $1.37 per meal to 87 cents per meal.

  • If, instead of reducing benefits for all households, USDA issued guidance to states and counties to remove 36.2 percent of SNAP recipients from the rolls in February – and if states, cities, and counties were able to figure out whom to remove and do so in time – that would remove 13.9 million low-income people from the program in February.

  • In any case, low-income Americans would lose $1.8 billion in groceries and 260,000 food stores would lose $1.8 billion in income in February. Hunger would likely soar and food stores would likely lay off employees and some would likely even close.

  • If the federal shutdown lasted until March, SNAP benefits would likely cease entirely, taking $4.8 billion out of the food economy and depriving food to a population about as large as the combined populations of Texas and Ohio. Hunger and grocery industry lay-offs would surely skyrocket further and even more food stores would likely close.

  • Also in February, states will start running out of the federal carry-over money now being used to keep clinics open and benefits issued in the WIC program, which provides nutrition supplements to low-income pregnant women, infants, and children under the age of five. The WIC program was scheduled to provide an estimated 6.7 million pregnant women, children, and infants with $297 million worth of nutrition supplements in February alone, which would have been redeemed at 46,000 retail establishments nationwide. Food distribution programs on Indian reservations, school lunch programs, school breakfast programs, and after-school snack programs could also be shuttered in February.

  • The shutdown could eventually reduce food distributed by nonprofit food charities, including many of the country’s more than 40,000 food pantries, soup kitchens, and food banks. The federal government purchases a significant amount of these organizations’ food and helps pay to warehouse and transport that food. Thus, a long shutdown could reduce these charities’ food distribution significantly.

Note: HFA CEO Joel Berg, a former USDA senior official and author of the definitive modern book on U.S. hunger (All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America?), is one of the nation’s leading experts on federal nutrition assistance programs. A seasoned and skilled media spokesperson, he is available for interviews to discuss the impact of the shutdown by contacting Nicole Aber at (646) 627-7741 or Naber@hungerfreeamerica.org.