Shutdown could affect food stamp benefits

Staff Writer
Published: 1/18/2019 9:02:35 AM

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts joined other state food banks Thursday in opposing the federal government shutdown as federal food stamp program SNAP faces uncertainty.

Most SNAP recipients will receive their February benefit — which averages $215 per month according to the letter — several weeks early, up until Sunday, as mandated by the federal government’s shutdown mitigation plan. There is no contingency plan for March at the moment.

The five food banks articulated their criticism in a statement released Thursday. The shutdown is affecting SNAP benefits because they are processed by federal employees of the Agriculture Department, many of whom have been furloughed.

Several thousand Franklin County residents rely on SNAP and will be impacted by its uncertainty. About 3,500 Greenfield residents receive SNAP benefits.

Food insecurity is a widespread problem in the region as about one third of, or 23,491, Franklin County residents used The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’ services between October 2017 and September 2018, Chris Wojcik, the food bank’s communications and marketing manager, said in an interview Thursday.

The SNAP schedule change means families will need to stretch a small amount of money over a longer period of time, Pat Baker, senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute said Thursday. It could also cause confusion among SNAP recipients, she added.

“We are all collectively concerned about confusion and the increased need for emergency food in February,” Baker said. “We’re extremely concerned about what’s going to happen in March.”

Baker urged low income Massachusetts residents use food banks to supplement their needs, however she qualified that, saying many do not have services nearby.

“This should not be happening in this country,” Baker said. “We have the resources to feed people.”

Congressman Jim McGovern, a supporter of SNAP, advocated for the food stamp program funding and urged the federal government to reopen in a speech on the House floor this week.

“If President Trump’s shutdown continues, millions of Americans who participate in SNAP will be at even greater risk of food insecurity as soon as March 2019,” McGovern wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday. “Let’s not forget that the majority of people participating in SNAP who can work do work – they just earn so little they still need help putting food on the table.”

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is not directly impacted by the shutdown as it receives state, not federal funds and relies mostly on private donations, Wojcik said. However, its workers have started contacting donors for larger contributions to meet anticipated heavier demand if SNAP benefits are interrupted and local federal workers feel the loss of their paychecks, Wojcik said.

“Now that it’s reached the point where people are not going to be receiving paychecks, we’re anticipating an increase in people,” Wojcik said. “Our food member agencies are beginning to report to us that they’re beginning to see an increase.”

The food bank has four to five staff who help western Massachusetts residents sign up for the SNAP program, Wojcik said.

The food bank letter requested Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, implore the president to reopen the government, and additionally, create a “disaster plan,” should the shutdown continue.

“If this shutdown does not get resolved in the next week we have to talk seriously about how we’re going to protect low income individuals,” Pat Baker said. “We hope we don’t have to get to an emergency.”

You can reach Grace Bird at:

gbird@recorder.com

413 772 0261 ext. 280




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