DES MOINES — Food assistance benefits and programs across the state are in a wait-and-see mode as the federal government shutdown heads into its fourth week.
But if disputes that led to the closures aren’t resolved within the next three weeks, it could be an entirely different prospect for individuals who rely on federal programs to get groceries each week, local and state officials say.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of hardships for a lot of people if there’s no resolution,” said Kim Guardado, director of the food reservoir at Hawkeye Area Community Action Program in Cedar Rapids. “It’s hard to think what that might be like for many families in eastern Iowa.”
Benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, for February were to be dispensed to Iowans on Thursday — earlier than previously expected, the Iowa Department of Human Service announced Wednesday.
More than 335,000 Iowans rely on SNAP — known as food assistance in Iowa — totaling up to $37 million in benefits, according to Iowa Department of Human Services data.
“We are encouraging those on food stamps to make sure they use it wisely so they have it for the full month of February,” said Barb Prather, executive director of the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.
She said DHS is still taking and processing SNAP applications at this time. Families can sign up by calling (888) 944-3663.
Federal funding for the food stamps program is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The dollars will last until March, thanks to a budget provision the U.S. Department of Agriculture relied on to give states money by Jan. 20 to circumvent the expiration of federal appropriations.
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Other programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, will be funded through February as well. WIC served more than 59,000 Iowans in November, according to state data.
But if the federal shutdown lasts into March, officials cannot guarantee those benefits will continue. The food stamp program has a $3 billion reserve, which would only cover two-thirds of the $4.8 billion in benefits distributed each month, according to a Washington Post article.
Iowa DHS officials are developing contingency plans for March should the government shutdown continue. Officials with the department declined to comment further on the contingency plans or what they could entail.
“At the Iowa Department of Human Services, we understand the importance of ensuring food security for Iowans in need and will do everything we can to ensure there is as little disruption as possible,” Director Jerry Foxhoven said in a statement.
Prather said the food bank’s commodity food ordered prior to Jan. 1 will be arriving as scheduled through May. This includes milk, pork, spaghetti, soups and potatoes, among other items.
“We are still providing our evening meals through Kids Cafe at the sites we serve,” Prather added, adding any government worker affected by the shutdown or furlough can receive services through the Cedar Valley Food Pantry or any of the food bank’s mobile pantries.
“We are monitoring the situation on a regular basis. If the government doesn’t reopen and SNAP/food assistance is not funded past February, we will more than likely be making adjustments to our distributions,” Prather said.