Prolonged shutdown could leave dozens without SNAP benefits

    If the government shutdown is prolonged, it could have an impact on the millions of Americans who rely on food assistance programs. (WHAM photo)

    Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - If the government shutdown is prolonged, it could have an impact on the millions of Americans who rely on food assistance programs.

    Each month, Amber Kuitunen of Rochester counts on her money from the government. For her, and many others like her, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP or food stamps, is a necessity.

    “I am concerned since I’m on government assistance, and I receive food stamps and help with my rent,” Kuitunen said. “That money does come from the state, but ultimately it comes from the government."

    Foodlink Chief Program Officer Mitch Gruber said the partial government shutdown could cause federal funds for food assistance programs, such as SNAP, to run out by February.

    “There is funding secured throughout the month of January for SNAP benefits, but if the shutdown goes on until February there’s only about $3 billion in reserves for a program that typically spends about $5 billion a month (nationwide),” Gruber said.

    If there is a disruption in benefits, Gruber said it would impact the nearly 120,000 people in Monroe County alone who rely on SNAP benefits.

    “One of the ways that people are going to be impacted the most is where they eat,” he said. “That’s where people will feel it the most, and that's when we'll really start to see the concern bubble up.”

    Foodlink provides food to food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters to help people in need. According to Gruber, a disruption in SNAP would cause more people to turn to these nonprofits creating a need Foodlink may not be able to meet.

    “There is not necessarily the food to go around to all those individuals,” said Gruber. “This is a program that has been very successful in ensuring that people have the opportunity to eat and people do rely on that money to make sure they can get through the month.”

    Kuitunen is hopeful the shutdown will end soon, but admits, she's nervous if it doesn't.

    “I am worried that if it continues to go on where will it leave the people that rely on this money for their food and a place to stay and roof over their head,” she said.

    In statements, both Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) and Joe Morelle (D-NY) said they working to reopen the government.

    Rep. Morelle said the House plans to pass individual bills this week do just that. His statement read:

    As a result of President Trump’s irresponsible decision to shut down the government, the Food and Nutrition Service has been forced to reduce benefits by 40% to nearly 40 million individuals and families in need who rely upon SNAP for food security. That’s why the House has passed legislation that is nearly identical to measures previously passed by the Senate to immediately and fully fund these essential programs—yet the President continues to prioritize a vanity wall over the basic needs of everyday Americans.
    This week, the House will begin passing individual appropriations bills, again identical to those passed weeks ago in the Senate, to re-open key parts of the government. We hope the Senate and the President will follow suit to ensure hardworking Americans have access to the resources they need and deserve.

    Rep. Reed called for compromise on both sides of the aisle to secure the southern border, provide for our nation’s “Dreamers,” make it easier for people to immigrate to the United States to work, and reopen the government.

    Rep. Reed’s statement read:

    We should focus on the people and what is best for them. We care about the children who recently died while taking dangerous routes to come to the United States and for the police officer murdered by an illegal immigrant last week. We must act now to secure our border, make it easier for people to come here legally and reopen the government.
    Last year the Problem Solvers Caucus introduced a package of border security and immigration reforms, and it is my hope this plan can be used as a roadmap by the President and Congressional leadership to reopen the government.

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