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Western Center Submits Letter to USDA Requesting Clarification for Food Stamp Protocol During Shutdown

The Federal Government shutdown has created a tremendous amount of uncertainty for families across America, and it has had a disproportionate impact on low-income families and individuals, many of whom we serve here in California. Today’s announcement that the shutdown will temporarily end creates a new level of uncertainty about how benefits will be disbursed once the three week period is up. Western Center, our partners, and our clients seek answers from the USDA regarding fundamental questions about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps, CalFresh in California), because millions of people rely on SNAP for nutrition. Clarity in this time is needed, and we hope the USDA will provide it as soon as possible.

An excerpt from our letter is below. The full letter with our questions can be accessed here.

We seek clarification from the Department so that we may properly advise our clients and the clients of other nonprofit legal services groups on how to protect the economic and food security of low-income Californians in the coming weeks. The lack of clear, unequivocal guidance from the Department, is likely to heighten the fear and financial stress that the federal government shutdown is causing SNAP recipients. Our clients are reporting that they are likely to run out of food benefits before the end of February and may have few, if any, resources to meet their food needs. It will take time for them to identify additional food resources, make arrangements to try to borrow money, if possible, and make arrangements with creditors to delay paying rent or other bills, if possible, in order to avoid hunger.

…With respect to March and beyond, it is vital that the Department clearly and unambiguously announce, as soon as possible, that SNAP benefits will continue under usual rules. We cannot emphasize strongly enough the social and psychological toll the current uncertainty is taking on affected families and those close to them. Some are reducing their food consumption to unsafe levels to try to make their supplies of food last longer. Others are afraid that the Department will deactivate the EBT system, as it threatened to do in 2015, and are thus rushing to spend all their benefits as soon as possible. Given the perishability of food and the inadequate food-safe storage facilities that many households have, this inevitably will mean improvident purchases, food waste, high potential for food-borne illness and serious hardship later on. The early issuance of February benefits, and the long gaps that the Department appears to anticipate between this issuance and the next one that households will receive, clearly exacerbate these dangers and makes your unambiguous reassurances all the more urgent.