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Food assistance benefits to arrive by Sunday despite shutdown

Federal workers in Detroit protest the ongoing government shutdown. [AP photo]
Federal workers in Detroit protest the ongoing government shutdown. [AP photo]

Oklahoma City — People who receive federal food assistance in Oklahoma will get their February funds by Sunday, but the Oklahoma Department of Human Services asked them not to spend it all immediately.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture came up with the early distribution to keep food assistance flowing through February. The last agreement to fund the government expired on Dec. 21, but it gave agencies the right to keep paying some bills for up to 30 days. That 30-day window expires on Monday, so USDA urged states to file their paperwork early.

One concern is that recipients will misunderstand the situation and think they will receive more benefits in February, said Patrick Klein, adult and family services director at the Department of Human Services. It's important to get the word out that they need to budget for their February food needs now, he said.

The Oklahoma Grocers Association also urged recipients to space out their purchases, if they can, to avoid shortages of popular items. About 610,000 people in Oklahoma receive food assistance, and normally the benefits are deposited on three different days to avoid overwhelming stores, according to the Department of Human Services.

Food assistance will be available despite a “critically short deadline” to file the February paperwork with USDA, Klein said.

“It is definitely ‘all hands on deck' to ensure that we provide as much of February benefits as possible by Jan. 20,” he said in a news release.

Sheree Powell, spokeswoman for the department, said the food assistance staff was working overtime to complete all recipients' paperwork by 5 p.m. Tuesday. If they can't, those recipients still will get food assistance, but USDA will have to dip into reserve funds, she said.

Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›