Fort Worth

Texas food banks ready to help families affected by government shutdown

More than 3.5 million Texans will get their February SNAP benefits early because of the partial government shutdown.

The Texas Health and Human Services on Sunday announced that the February SNAP benefits will be issued early. The state said current SNAP recipients will get February benefits automatically loaded onto their Lone Star Cards by Jan. 20.

SNAP is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that offers food assistance to eligible low-income people and families. The program is often referred to as the government’s “food stamps.”

“We are relieved that the government shutdown won’t affect benefits for SNAP recipients in February,” said Celia Cole, CEO of non-profit Feeding Texas, in a news release.

Cole said any disruption in this assistance would “create immediate hardship for these households that could have lasting consequences.”

Cole said it is unclear if there will be funding in March if the shutdown continues.

The state said in a news release that “the federal government has alerted states that they can issue benefits until federal funds are no longer available; it is unclear from the federal government when that will occur.”

Gary Huddleston, a food retailing consultant for the Texas Retailers Association, said SNAP customers are important and any impact to their ability to get food would also “greatly affect a number of food retailers in North Texas.”

Huddleston said that like the state, retailers want families to know that they don’t have to use all of their benefits at once. In fact, the state is encouraging families to space out their purchases throughout February.

“This is a one-time exception and their benefits are available all through February,” Huddleston said.

The partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22 and affects nine federal departments, means that 800,000 federal employees are either furloughed or working without pay. They could be paid retroactively after lawmakers reach a compromise.

There are also federal contract workers affected by the shutdown who are not getting paid and it is unclear if they will get back pay.

Nationwide, those federal and contract workers, along with families on SNAP benefits, are the focus of concerns for many food and anti-hunger advocates who worry their situation will grow more worrisome the longer the shutdown continues.

In North Texas, area food banks are prepared to respond to the needs of these populations.

“We have not quite seen the impact yet, but we want to be ready should the need present itself in a greater way. Hunger is an issue that is always there,” said Katherine Randall, interim director of marketing communications for the Tarrant Area Food Bank.

Randall said the Tarrant Area Food Bank partners with 270 food banks in North Texas. It has been reaching out to the 40 largest ones to monitor any impact on communities from the shutdown.

“We are reaching out to them to see if they are starting to see an increase in the need in their communities,” Randall said, adding that the agency will activate an internal response team to help families.

Resources

SNAP recipients can check benefit amounts at Your TexasBenefits.com or by calling the Lone Star Help Desk at 800-777-7EBT.

Texans who need additional food assistance should contact a local food bank or call 2-1-1 for help.

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Diane Smith, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 1997. Smith, who has covered municipal government, immigration and education, has won multiple awards for reporting, most recently as part of a Star-Telegram team recognized by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for coverage of child abuse and Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail area.
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