Congress secured three months’ worth of food stamps for 423,000 Connecticut recipients last Wednesday after approving a temporary spending plan.
The government narrowly avoided a shutdown by approving a temporary spending measure that will keep federal agencies in operation through Dec. 11. In response to the potential shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture told food stamp agencies last week to stop processing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments. Due to the passage of the bill, retailers will continue to accept SNAP benefits without interruption for the next month. But if Congress fails to come up with a long-lasting budget plan, food stamps may not be circulated past December.
“I think people were fearful that they might lose their benefits,” Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut! — a statewide anti-hunger and food security organization — said. “I think we have to worry more about December now when [Congress does] the budget. They’ve just kicked the can down the road.”
Connecticut currently has nearly half a million food stamp recipients. Nolan said that 60 percent of people receiving food stamp benefits in Connecticut are families with children. According to End Hunger Connecticut!, 37,712 New Haven residents received SNAP benefits in 2014.
Last Thursday, the Department of Agriculture sent out an instructive letter to food stamp recipients and retailers warning them about the potential consequences of a government shutdown. The letter explained that if the shutdown occurred, beneficiaries would have been blocked from using leftover September benefits. It urged food stamp recipients planning to stock up on food before the Oct. 1 deadline to consider the option of long-term food storage.
Connecticut Food Association President Stan Sorkin said the shutdown would have been devastating for retailers and food stamp recipients. He noted that over $60 million in retail value would have been lost if food stamps had not been distributed, adding that food banks would have had difficulty adjusting to an influx of people.
“It would be very problematic for [the food banks], because the more people that don’t have access to food, the heavier the demand would be for them to account for that,” Sorkin said.
The passage of the bill was slowed when congressional Republicans demanded that Planned Parenthood be defunded before they approved a budget, but the House ultimately voted 257 to 151 in favor of the temporary spending plan. While 186 Democrats and 91 Republicans cast their vote in favor of the plan, all 151 votes in opposition were cast by Republicans.
During the previous shutdown in 2013, the government could draw on funds from a federal stimulus plan to keep food stamps in distribution. However, there are insufficient funds to tide over SNAP without the passage of another federal budget plan, Nolan said, adding that thousands of families will go hungry in December if the government shuts down after the temporary budget expires.
“People won’t be able to eat because of this,” Nolan said.
Yale students also voiced concern about hunger in Connecticut, noting that students can do more to increase the food supply for low-income individuals and families. Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project member Victoria Mevs ’17 said YHHAP has been making a concerted effort to recruit volunteers in the hopes of contributing as much as possible to the community.
According to End Hunger Connecticut!, 89.7 percent of 11th and 12th graders in New Haven are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.