Haaland Demands Answers on Shutdown Effects on Food Assistance Benefits

January 9, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Debra Haaland (NM-01) cosigned a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Purdue demanding specifics on how the Department will address impending benefit reductions for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) caused by President Trump’s government shutdown. Without additional funding, Secretary Purdue is required by law to instruct SNAP state agencies on how to ration available funding among SNAP recipients. According to USDA, SNAP helps feeds nearly 500,000 New Mexicans, including children, low-income military veterans, and seniors—yet inadequate funding could lead to severe, immediate benefit cuts for the month of February and beyond.

“Like many New Mexicans, I know what it’s like to rely on food assistance to feed my family, and it’s important that we get a full understanding of the effects this government shutdown will have on those benefits,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland. “The House passed a bill to fund the government on day one -- we owe it to families in New Mexico to solve this crisis and ensure federal workers receive their paychecks.”

Below is the full text of the letter, that Congresswoman Deb Haaland signed:

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue
Secretary
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250​

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write seeking information about the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) plans to address the current government shutdown’s negative impact on food and nutrition assistance for millions of working Americans and their families.

Our nation’s largest and most effective anti-hunger safety net, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), will be severely impacted by a continued lapse in government funding. Currently, SNAP serves more than 38 million of our most vulnerable people, including millions of children, low-income military veterans, and seniors.

Under USDA’s present interpretation of the authorizing statute, SNAP must receive an annual appropriation from Congress in order to meet the needs of the program’s recipients. Such funding for SNAP benefits has not been allocated beyond the end of this month. Because of this, a continuation of the government shutdown would cripple the program and prevent millions of people from accessing basic food assistance. 

While Congress provided $3 billion worth of reserve funding for SNAP in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, estimations based on program participation suggest this amount would fail to provide all recipients with full benefits even for the month of February. In this scenario, where federal funds are unable to cover full benefit costs, the law requires USDA to instruct SNAP state agencies on how to ration available funding among SNAP recipients. To date, it remains unclear how such benefit reductions will be carried out.

The government shutdown has also restricted the way USDA administers the program. According to the Department’s website, 95% of staff within the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) have been furloughed. Among other responsibilities, FNS is tasked with approving applications from retailers seeking authorization to accept SNAP payments. Several media reports indicate that FNS is not processing retailer applications nor providing technical assistance to store owners. This ever-worsening problem is exacerbating hunger in many rural and other disadvantaged areas.

Given the drastic impact this current situation will have on hunger in America, we ask for an immediate response to the following questions:

  1. What are USDA’s specific plans for administering SNAP after January 2019?
  2. Without further appropriations, how will USDA instruct SNAP state agencies to reduce SNAP benefits for the month of February and beyond? What methods will be used to determine benefit reductions on a per recipient basis?
  3. Are any SNAP retailer applications currently being processed? If not, when was the last application processed? How many submitted applications have yet to be processed?
  4. USDA guidance was sent to SNAP state agencies and SNAP authorized retailers on December 26 and December 31, respectively. These guidance documents only address January benefits. Has USDA sent any additional guidance to either group? If not, what is the timeline for sending additional guidance?
  5. Has USDA sent any guidance to SNAP recipients regarding the current situation, as the Department has previously done in similar scenarios? If not, what is the USDA’s explanation for not doing so? When will updated guidance be available to SNAP recipients?

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.