Pa. food stamp recipients get early payments amid government shutdown
People who depend on food stamps to feed their families face uncertainty as the federal government’s partial shutdown drags on.
About 1.8 million Pennsylvanians on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, commonly known as food stamps, received their February benefits on Friday — about two weeks ahead of schedule — because of the shutdown.
But it remains unknown when they might receive benefits again.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the SNAP program, was able to use a legal loophole to disburse its February benefits ahead of schedule. The loophole won’t work for March payments, and officials don’t know how — or if — food stamp recipients will receive benefits if the shutdown lasts another month.
“(Recipients) will have to make this payment last for an undefined period as the shutdown continues,” said Teresa Miller, secretary of the state Department of Human Services, which administers the program in Pennsylvania.
Shoppers using state-issued ACCESS cards loaded with new SNAP benefits said they were concerned about making their February benefits last.
“I’m nervous for everybody, really,” Dawn Myers, 51, of Arnold, said after stocking up on groceries at the Shop ‘n’ Save in New Kensington. “I know I’ve got to watch what I’m eating now.”
If the shutdown doesn’t end soon, Myers predicted, “I think it’s going to be ugly. It’s going to get bad around here.”
About 148,000 people in Allegheny County and 41,000 people in Westmoreland County receive SNAP benefits, according to state figures from December.
“I just picked up the essentials,” said Arnold’s Erik Williams, 39, who is legally blind and said he depends on the benefits.
He cursed politicians for allowing the shutdown to drag on and threaten the SNAP program that is essential for so many people.
Without food stamps, New Kensington’s Stephanie Marinoff said, “I can’t really make it. I have bills and won’t have money left for food.”
Marinoff, 37, receives disability and SNAP benefits and works at a gas station to make ends meet. She was careful about what she bought Friday and said she may seek help at a food bank next month.
Victoria Mott, 27, of Vandergrift, works as a home health aide. She said her client asked her “to get a good amount of food so he could freeze it and it could last.”
Judy Fryer, 68, a personal care assistant from New Kensington, said she was concerned for those who receive benefits who aren’t good at budgeting.
“I have a feeling they’re going to splurge,” Fryer said. “This is going to be a problem for families.”
Officials have urged recipients to budget their benefits to make them last, not treat them as a windfall.
“This wasn’t an extra food stamp distribution, this was their February distribution, and we hope they understand that,” said Jennifer Miller, CEO of the Westmoreland County Food Bank, which helps people sign up for food stamps. “We are prepared to educate people as to how this is all working, and of course how to budget their food stamps.”
Miller said the food bank hasn’t seen any major issues so far, but it’s too early to know what impact the shutdown will have on the Westmoreland County residents who rely on SNAP.
DHS and its affiliated local agencies will continue to process applications, renewals and other paperwork related to the SNAP program throughout the shutdown.
“We’re just hoping it ends soon,” Jennifer Miller said.
Jacob Tierney and Tom Davidson are Tribune-Review staff writers. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Soolseem. You can contact Tom at 724-487-7208, email@example.com or via Twitter @TribDavidson.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .