Arizona residents who get federal help buying food will receive February’s money a few weeks early and are being cautioned to spend carefully so it lasts until March due to the partial government shutdown.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is still available because the U.S. Agriculture Department found a way earlier this week to extend coverage 30 days despite the lack of appropriation from Congress. It is unclear what will happen if the shutdown continues after February.
States are being asked to issue SNAP benefits early for February, with a deadline of Jan. 20.
“We believe that the crisis is resolved in the short term, but we could see more families struggling during middle or late February,” said Angie Rodgers, president of the Association of Arizona Food Banks. She cautioned families they will need to stretch the funds an extra couple of weeks.
There are 850,000 Arizonans who receive SNAP benefits, and the average payment per month is $118. For a family of three to qualify in Arizona, it must earn no more than $2,252 per month.
“That amount obviously is hard for families in a regular period so asking them to stretch their benefits to 45 days is going to be a challenge,” Rodgers said. “We’re trying to get messages out to families about how to plan accordingly.”
Children, seniors and those with disabilities comprise two-thirds of SNAP participants nationwide. SNAP recipients must fulfill certain work requirements unless they are exempt because of age, disability or another reason.
In Arizona, almost half of SNAP recipient households have children, while an additional 11 percent are seniors or people living with a disability.
Distribution of benefits is staggered alphabetically and will be this month, too, with people receiving a balance increase on their SNAP card between Jan. 17 and Jan. 20.
Rodgers said several food banks across Arizona have noticed an upswing in need since the shutdown started 22 days ago. However, she said they don’t know if the increased demand is because of that.
There hasn’t been a measurable increase in demand at the Food Bank of Southern Arizona, said CEO Michael McDonald, but it is receiving a number of inquires from government workers asking about eligibility. These include Transportation Security Administration workers, corrections officers and government contractors, he said.
Food banks in Arizona have emergency commodities available every month, Rodgers said, and these will continue to be offered in February.
She said it’s unclear what will happen after that if the shutdown goes on. Food banks will need to receive federal reimbursements to continue to provide emergency food supplies, Rodgers said.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security is asking retail and grocery stores to have extra items on hand for people who want to stock up early and put food in the freezer. People might buy bulk sale items that can easily be frozen, such as meat or bread, Rodgers said.
Other programs that help the working poor and protect children from hunger should continue through March, she said, including school meals and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC.