USDA to use expired CR to pay SNAP benefits in February
January 8, 2019
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the Agriculture Department will make Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits available in February by using a provision in the continuing resolution that funded the government through Dec. 21.
The plan, which was developed with the Office of Management and Budget, "works and is legally sound," Perdue said in a call to reporters.The Agriculture Department has already sent money to the states for January benefits, but Congress had not appropriated money for SNAP benefits beyond that. House Democrats and anti-hunger groups have put pressure on the Trump administration to announce what will happen after the end of January if the shutdown continues.
Section 110B of the CR allows the government to obligate funds within 30 days of the expiration of the CR and did not require sign off from the congressional appropriations committees, said Brandon Lipps, the administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service, and acting deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services who runs the SNAP program.
The fact that the bill contains the CR provision allowing obligation of funds within 30 days of expiration means that the funds have been appropriated, Lipps said.
The Agriculture Department, he explained, will send the money — estimated at $4.8 billion — to the states before Jan. 20 and tell the states to load the purchasing power on SNAP participants' electronic benefit transfer cards by that date.
The states will be expected to direct vendors that load the benefits onto the EBT cards to get the job done by Jan. 20, Lipps said. Making this plan work will require close coordination with states and vendors, he noted.
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The plan will allow USDA to issue the benefits without using the SNAP contingency fund estimated at $3 billion, Lipps added.
But Perdue and Lipps did not say whether USDA would use that fund in March if the shutdown continues, as President Donald Trump has threatened. Perdue said that there is "ample time for Congress to act" before March by sending Trump a bill he will sign that includes "border security and an effective physical barrier."
The February benefits will be available for recipients' use on Jan. 20 and USDA will make sure that program participants do not go more than 40 days without a benefit replenishment.
If Congress does not pass an appropriations bill funding SNAP by March 1, USDA will use "every scenario" to make sure low-income Americans have access to food, Lipps said.
The benefits will not be affected by the Trump administration's proposal to tighten up benefits for able bodied adults without dependents or impose stiffer work requirements, Lipps said.
Child nutrition programs have funding through March, with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children using prior year funds for February, Lipps said.
USDA has the money to continue to make food deliveries to food banks, the elderly and Indian tribal organizations, he said.
State agencies can accept new SNAP applications in February and approved applicants will receive benefits on the regular schedule, he said. ❖