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A sigh of relief: USDA announces shutdown will not impact February SNAP benefits

Posted at 3:51 PM, Jan 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-11 08:47:56-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — If the federal government shutdown continues into February, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be fully funded.

The Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday night that it will work with states to load benefits onto recipients' cards by Jan. 20, just within the deadline for a provision that allows them to pay out benefits, even without a budget.

That's welcome news in Western New York, especially Erie County, where SNAP supports over 78,000 households and 146,000 individuals.

The county is set to address a scare over money it allocates towards the program Wednesday. On Tuesday, 7 Eyewitness News obtained an internal email sent by Erie County Department of Social Services Deputy Commissioner Karen Rybicki. It shows the county's SNAP benefits program could can operate on reserve funds until the end of the month.

The email instructs county staffers to continue to process applications for assistance. Rybicki goes on to advise staffers that the DSS has been in contact with the Food Bank of Western New York, and pantry referrals can be made to households in need.

You can read the full text of the email below.

Good Afternoon Staff- Our Department is in communication with both New York State and the United States Department of Agriculture about the impact a prolonged federal shutdown will have on SNAP benefits. We are hoping to prevent a disruption of benefits for Erie County residents. We have been informed today by New York State OTDA that there are enough reserve funds for SNAP benefits to fund the recurring SNAP benefits and benefits for new case openings until the end of January. We have been instructed to accept and fully process SNAP applications as usual. Benefit files for recurring January SNAP benefits have been sent to the State’s EBT vendor and are being processed as usual. There has not yet been a directive from the United States Department of Agriculture about the steps that will be taken in the event of a protracted federal government shutdown beyond January. As soon as more information becomes available I will keep you updated. Additionally, we will be informing the public through the news media and our social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter. We have also been in contact with the Food Bank of Western New York and they are in a very good place with regard to food supply coming off the holiday season . Pantry referrals should continue to be utilized for households with emergency food need. The unknown can be very stressful for staff and our clients, and you may have already begun to receive inquiries about SNAP benefits . Thank you for your commitment to the clients we serve and for sharing the known facts around this issue and not speculation.
Karen Rybicki, Deputy Commissioner, Erie County Department of Social Services