While Congress continues to fight over federal spending, top of mind for many Americans will be how they are impacted by a government shutdown. A pause on government services in the event of a shutdown would have implications on everything from national parks to air travel to food assistance, including SNAP.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a benefits program that relies on appropriations from the federal government in order to operate. If Congress does not approve appropriations to fund the government by October 1, a “shutdown” of affected agency activities will begin. Nonessential personnel will be furloughed, and the federal government will shut down all programs that depend on annual appropriations to function.
A shutdown will affect SNAP benefits, but not initially. This is because the USDA’s accounting process considers the upcoming month’s SNAP benefits to be “obligated” in the prior month when benefit issuance files are sent to each state’s EBT vendor. Because October benefits were obligated in September, SNAP recipients can rest assured that they will not miss their October payments if a shutdown occurs, as the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) reports.
However, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that “if the shutdown were to extend longer than that, there would be some serious consequences to SNAP.”
If a shutdown were to continue past mid-October, FRAC states that there is a $6 billion SNAP contingency reserve fund which may be used to cover costs. However, all states have a set date determined when they need to begin the process to issue the next month’s SNAP benefits. If any state misses their own deadline while waiting on guidance or action from the federal government, November benefits may be interrupted or delayed entirely.
Convenience retailers that accept SNAP may want to check with their individual state agencies to understand whether issues could arise with November benefits, as well as to help ensure that their states are doing all that they can to get benefits distributed in a timely manner.