Just last month, Congress passed an $867 reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which supports programs that have a significant impact on American communities through investment in rural development, promoting conservation efforts and supporting local food and nutrition programs. Chief among these food and nutrition programs is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program most commonly referred to as food stamps, which provides benefits to nearly 39 million people in cities, towns and villages across our country.
The SNAP program is a mandatory entitlement program administered out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program receives funds as appropriated by Congress, as compared to other mandatory programs such as Social Security, which are automatically funded regardless of the budget. In these times of budget negotiations, this “technicality” means that the USDA must ensure that it has funds in its budget or reserves to continue to fund the program on a day-to-day basis.
As the federal government shutdown moves solidly into the month of January, the USDA has announced that it will continue to provide funding for the SNAP program through February but, beyond that, has made no further commitments to how long they can continue without Congressional action.
If history is an indication, it would seem unlikely that Congress would allow the SNAP program to default on benefits. In fact, at the end of 2018, the continuing resolution that was passed included funds to pay for SNAP this month – again, the question remains on how big the USDA reserves are in order to keep the program funded until Congressional action is taken. In the omnibus appropriations bill passed for FY18, Congress provided $3 billion to the USDA for its reserves and allowed them access to these funds through 2019. And, while the total number in USDA’s reserves is not fully known, it is safe to assume the number is larger than $3 billion.
The President and Congress have both recently pointed out the significant impact to individuals and local economies should this funding lapse. The impact to cities, towns and villages will be most largely felt in your local food pantries and soup kitchens. It will impact the way in which residents are able to work, play and go to school because access to food is a critical component to economic vitality and the ability to thrive.
We know that Congress and the President understand this, but we need them to work together on a solution. Access to food should not be a negotiating chip. Time and financial reserves are running out.
How many of your residents rely on SNAP benefits to meet their nutrition needs? Share how the uncertainty in funding for this program impacts your city on social media using #shutdownstories and tagging @leagueofcities or emailing your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NLC continues to push Congress and the Administration to reopen the federal government. For updates on the status of the shutdown, along with resources for local governments and information about individual agency budgets, visit www.nlc.org/shutdown.
About the Author: Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the Program Director for Human Development at the National League of Cities. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @martinezruckman.