Delaware residents receiving federal food assistance will likely feel the effects of the recent government shutdown into March.
The state Division of Social Services issued Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the month of February early, because of the government shutdown.
Division Director Ray Fitzgerald says that will leave recipients with a “SNAP gap” of two to four weeks, depending on when their benefits are usually issued.
February benefits were issued Jan. 17.
“The concern is folks whose, say, last name begins with a Z, they won’t receive another issuance until mid- to late-March. Which could leave some people in jeopardy of, if they dont budget effectively, having issues being able to feed themselves or their families,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald says the Division staggers SNAP issuance to even out demand for food retailers.
The Division could theoretically re-establish the staggered issuance gradually over several months, so that end-of-the-month recipients are not faced with a four-week gap all at once.
But Fitzgerald says that would be too technically difficult. “It was a huge effort with us and the EBT card vendor and retailers to coordinate this early issuance on Jan. 17,” he said. “So to do that every month until you get caught up would be problematic.”
Recipients will get full SNAP benefits for February and March, but the difficulty is in the timing.
“Do your best to budget your benefits so that they spread out as long over the gap as possible,” said Fitzgerald.
“Food-insecure families already have to stretch their monthly food budgets,” said Food Bank of Delaware President and CEO Patricia Beebe in a statement. “We know that SNAP benefits do not last the entire month – 90 percent of SNAP benefits are usually spent within the first three weeks of a month.”
Fitzgerald says he expects most families to run into problems in late February. “We’re not waiting until the end of February to mobilize,” he said. “The food bank, the retailers’ association, the Department of Health and Social Services, a lot of our partners— we’re working together now to try to be prepared.”
Food assistance resources are available through State Service Centers. Food Bank of Delaware will host three outdoor mobile pantries in February to help meet increased demand. People can also call Delaware 2-1-1 to find nearby pantries.
According to state officials, there are roughly 136,000 SNAP clients in Delaware.