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Congressional Showdown Threatens to Cut Food Benefits

The average SNAP recipient receives benefits for 10 months or less. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture
The average SNAP recipient receives benefits for 10 months or less. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture
September 24, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. – More than 400,000 people in Connecticut could go hungry if Congress doesn’t agree on a budget before the end of the month.

Without a budget in place, the Department of Agriculture, which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, can't provide benefits to the millions of Americans who rely on the program.

The USDA has told state administrators not to put money into recipients' accounts for October.

Lucy Nolan, executive director of the advocacy group End Hunger Connecticut, says any interruption means people will go hungry.

"This is what they rely on for their food money, and so really it is taking food away from some of the most needy people in the country and in the state," she points out.

When the government shut down for more than two weeks in 2013, SNAP benefits were covered by the president's economic recovery act.

But the Secretary of Agriculture says now there isn't enough money in the contingency fund to keep the benefits flowing.

According to Nolan, even a delay in putting money into SNAP accounts will cause a backlog, depriving people of benefits.

"Even if maybe on Sept. 29th they decide not to shut down the government, that means that for whatever the week beforehand people haven't had money put into their account," she stresses.

Nolan says for most people being on SNAP is temporary. The average person receives benefits for only eight to 10 months.

But those on a fixed income, or stuck in low-paying jobs and supporting a family may not realize why their benefits have stopped.

"There will be people, and particularly older adults, seniors who are on the program and go to use their card and there's no money on it, and they may think that they're cut off the program," she explains.

According to government statistics, in 2013 one in five children in this country lived in families that experienced food insecurity at some point during the year.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT