In Essex County, 11.5 percent of homes received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in 2016.
Despite what’s shaping up to be the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history, SNAP is on course to provide for its recipients this month and next, according to a press release from the United States Department of Agriculture, the group that funds the service. However, the food program remains a concern for some local officials if the shutdown is not resolved in February. During a recent press conference, President Donald Trump suggested that the shutdown could go on for months or even years.
SNAP is a federal program that helps 43.6 million individuals, roughly 13 percent of the U.S., buy grocery products such as bread, fruits, vegetables, cereals, meats, dairy and seeds and plants for harvesting. Recently, the USDA said it is prepared to fund SNAP through the month of February, which costs $4.8 billion.
The funding for SNAP expired in December 2018, one day before the shutdown started on Dec. 22, but the program was still approved for the month of January. Now it’s funded through February, too.
Franklin County Social Services Commissioner Michele Mulverhill said SNAP recipients are secure for now.
“With the partial shut shown of the Federal government there will be no impact on food stamps at this time,” she wrote in an email Thursday. “The department is working with NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to issue February’s grant early to ensure people will have their benefits through February. If the reserve funds are exhausted before the government is opened back up, districts have been advised that there may be an increase in requests for emergency assistance for food.”
Essex County Social Services Commissioner Michael Mascarenas said he remains hopefully optimistic for SNAP.
“Right now, we’re good through February, which is good, but it has raised some concerns,” he said. “I’m worried our food pantries could get in a situation where they’re not equipped to meet the needs of the community. The pantries become really taxed this time around the holidays and the new year. A permanent solution would be better than going on a month-to-month basis. We’ll do the best we can to let our officials know who our beneficiaries are and the trouble they could be facing.”
Willsboro Supervisor and Chair of the Essex County Board of Supervisors Shaun Gillilland said the board is currently looking into how the shutdown could affect SNAP for the county.
“It’s on our radar,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “We have about 4,000 residents who receive SNAP benefits, and about half are senior citizens. We’re aware that if the government shutdown continues for a while, there’s a possibility that benefits will run out. First, we’d look to the state and see what its actions are because they provide the (electronic benefits transfer) funds. It would be a tough time. It’s something we’ve not budgeted for and would put a hefty financial burden on the county, but we would handle it.”
Gillilland said along with SNAP, there are many federal services that could be impacted such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. However, he said there isn’t yet a clear indication on what the shutdown’s effects on county government will be.
Elsewhere in the North Country, federal prison, airport and border security officers are working without pay during the shutdown.