Gov’t Shutdown Leaves Columbia County Scrambling to Fulfill SNAP Benefits

A majority of the 2.7 million New Yorkers who buy food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) received their February benefits more than two weeks early Thursday to avoid the federal program’s funding cut-off as the partial government shutdown nears the one-month mark.

This includes many of the 5,400 SNAP recipients in Columbia County, where the county’s Department of Social Services is scrambling to figure out how to fund March’s SNAP benefits if the shutdown continues.

SNAP, formerly known as “food stamps,” is funded through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one of nine federal departments without budgets due to the shutdown, which stems from Congressional Democrats and President Trump disagreeing about whether to include funding for a border wall as part of the bill funding these departments.

The Trump administration authorized SNAP funds to be distributed up to a month after the USDA lost its funding, an option possible under the prior bill temporarily funding these departments, according to Roll Call.

This grace period for SNAP runs out Jan. 20.

Anthony Farmer, a spokesman for the Office of Temporary Assistance (OTA), the state agency which distributes SNAP in New York, called the situation “unprecedented.”

The USDA instructed states the week of Jan. 6 to issue February’s benefits early to avoid the cut-off, Farmer said.

“We’re doing our best to get the word out to people so they are aware that this is coming, and this isn’t any sort of extra or bonus payment they’re receiving, that these are their full benefits for the month of February, and they should plan accordingly based on that,” he said.

“But we haven’t had time to property notify people like we normally would if there was a major change like this happening,” Farmer said, adding the state was working on getting the word out through local Departments of Social Services, community organizations and the media.

Supermarkets in Columbia County and across the state are expecting a spike in customers in the coming days as the early benefits are received.

Hannaford in Valatie

Hannaford Supermarkets, which has two locations in Columbia County, was expecting an influx of customers, according to spokesman Eric Blom, but the stores could handle the traffic, just as they do during other unexpected busy periods, such as before snowstorms.

Price Chopper Supermakets, which has eight locations in the Hudson Valley, including Chatham, was adjusting for a surge of customers, according to spokeswoman Mona Golub.

“[We’ve] sent products out early, and we’ve adjusted labor scheduling in both our warehouses and our stores to accommodate a surge in end-of-the-month business that generally hits at the first of the month,” she said.

Columbia County Department of Social Services Commissioner Robert Gibson agreed he was “concerned” about those on SNAP receiving two months’ benefits in 17 days, then going without another payment until at least March.

“I’m concerned about that, sure,” he said. “We work with [SNAP recipients] with budgeting, that’s all part of the process, but it’s out of the ordinary, so you worry about it – it’s a longer period.”

However, the bigger issue for Gibson’s office was not the early February benefits, but how to get SNAP recipients their March benefits if the shutdown continues.

Gibson was meeting with officials in his office “so that we can come up with some kind of a plan to find a way to get assistance to these folks,” he said.

“I’m making this up as I go, because I’m worried that my clients won’t have what they need,” he added.

A potential plan was to work with New York to get funds for SNAP recipients using state money though some existing public assistance program, he said.

Gibson was unsure if the federal government would reimburse the state for this money, he said, and his office would have to create public assistance files for the 2,000 Columbia Country residents who receive SNAP, but who are not on other forms of public assistance, for this to work.

This would be “very, very involved,” Gibson said.

“But it’s the most orderly and immediate way that we can think of to try to continue to provide these benefits to the clients,” he added.

Already, difficulties with SNAP are forcing employees in Gibson’s office to work overtime, he said.

“That’s obviously going to be an added expense to all this,” he added.

SNAP recipients who must recertify their eligibility in January and have not yet done so will receive their benefits as normal in February if they are still eligible, according to Farmer.

Afterword: Lackadaisical Meetings & The Shutdown

This article was written after I lackadaisically dropped by a Hudson Common Council meeting…[ppp_patron_only level=”9″ silent=”no”]

I say “lackadaisically” because I had no intent of writing an article on the meeting’s proceedings; I just had a gap in my very packed schedule, so I thought it would be helpful to show my face and keep up to date on things.

Hudson Alderwoman Tiffany Garriaga mentioned SNAP benefits would be coming early; a county supervisor (God, another semi-colon Roger, really?) talked to me after the meeting about the pressure the county Department of Social Services was under and suggested I talk to Robert Gibson. I immediately wigged out, because Robert and I have EXTREMELY similar names.

My point is, it’s always helpful to show up for stuff, because you’re never going to know when a story presents itself.

And now: the shutdown,

Our country is really getting fucked right now. As of me writing this, the shutdown has been going on for…29…29??…Jesus…29 days, shattering the past record for a shutdown, which was 21 days during Bill Clinton’s administration.

Gibson called it “unprecedented.” Another phrase I keep on hearing getting tossed around by the media is “unchartered waters.” This is actually the third shutdown of the Trump presidency, but the first lasted a day and the second two days, so the country didn’t really feel the effects.

Republicans and Democrats have really dug in on this one – in fact, they are probably FARTHER away from reaching a deal then they were four weeks ago. The issue certainly won’t be resolved until at least next Friday, when I hope (HOPE) the fact that 800,000 government employees will miss their second paycheck – meaning they haven’t been paid in a month – will get everyone to bargaining table.

I honestly think the only way this thing will be resolved is if Mitch McConnell grows some balls and goes against Trump. He’s been blocking spending bills from even being considered by the Senate. A wall-free spending bill would easily pass the House, pass the Senate if McConnell gets just a handful of GOP senators on board (which he easily could) and boom – the bill would be on Trump’s desk.

If this makes anyone feel better, Trump’s poll numbers are getting FUCKED by all this. The RealClearPolitics average of all legitimate approval polls shows his disapproval numbers shooting up during the last two weeks, while his approval rating has dropped to 41 percent.

A significant majority of Americans place the blame on Trump for the shutdown, according to every poll available. A particularly good one from Pew shows the majority of Americans blame Trump and only 40 percent support the wall. Perhaps most importantly, those supporting the wall are more likely to concede to a bill opening the government without wall funding then those opposed to the wall conceding to a bill opening the government with wall funding. In other words, liberals are more dug in on this one.

IF a bill without wall funding lands on Trump’s desk and he vetos it, his poll numbers will DIVE. I’m not going to say it would be the end of him – he is, after all, the Teflon Don – but Congress could override the veto with a two-thirds majority, which I believe they would if they voted for the bill in the first place.

Here’s hoping…





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