Oklahoma families can get February food assistance despite shutdown
Oklahoma City — Thousands of Oklahoma families that use federal assistance to stretch their food budgets will get their February benefits despite the partial government shutdown, but there is still uncertainty about March.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that states can request their share of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments for February early. About 380,000 families in Oklahoma receive food assistance, which averages about $4 per person per day.
The Women, Infants and Children program and school nutrition funds also will continue as normal, at least for another month.
Sheree Powell, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said USDA hadn't sent guidance about February's food assistance benefits to the department as of the close of business Tuesday, but that employees are monitoring the situation.
The last continuing resolution — essentially an agreement to keep funding the government's current obligations without hashing out a full budget — ended Dec. 21, but it allowed the USDA and other agencies to pay money that had been set aside within the next 30 days. If the states commit money for their residents' food assistance by Jan. 20, USDA still can pay them under those rules, said Brandon Lipps, acting deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at USDA.
The process, called “early issuance,” typically is used in states that are anticipating a natural disaster that could knock their systems off-line, like a hurricane, Lipps said. Current recipients will be able to use their benefits as usual, and states can continue to take applications in February, he said.
“I'm not aware that it's been used in a government shutdown situation, but it's something we believe will work well,” he said.
If the shutdown continues through February, USDA will evaluate other options to pay March benefits, Lipps said. The department has about $3 billion in contingency funds available.
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USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue urged Congress to pass a budget that President Donald Trump would sign, including funding for a border wall. House Democrats are pushing a bill that includes $1.6 billion for border security, but Trump has demanded $5.7 billion.
“We provided an additional month of SNAP benefits,” Perdue said. “We believe this is ample time for Congress to act.”