The Trump administration announced Tuesday that Americans that rely Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps, will not have those benefits shut off at the end of the month due to the shutdown, even if the government closure continues. As the practical reality of the prolonged shutdown of parts of the federal government has sunk in, there was growing concern about the 38 million low-income individuals who rely on monthly food benefits and if the government would be able to continue the subsidy.
The Agriculture Department said it can ensure the food benefits get distributed without an appropriation by relying on a budget provision that allows the federal government to make some payments up to 30 days after a budgeted period’s end, in this case Dec. 21. That gives the administration until Jan. 20 to provide states with the money to fund February food stamps. It remains unclear what will happen if the shutdown continues, as President Trump has said he’s willing to do; the Agriculture Department has a $3 billion contingency fund for food stamps, which covers only a portion of the $5 billion spent monthly on the assistance.
“States are responsible for taking federal SNAP funds and loading them onto debit cards for program enrollees to spend on food at grocery stores,” HuffPost notes. “The average benefits come to about $123 per month per person.” Other government entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are unaffected by the shutdown.