Government re-opening welcomed news for millions qualified for food assistance

Local News

Montgomery, Ala (WRBL) – Friday afternoon developments in Washington D.C. to reopen the government translates into good news for millions of Americans who depend on federally funded food assistance programs to make ends meet. However, families are encouraged to remain conservative and stretch benefits as details are being worked out.

The Senate unanimously passed a measure to reopen government agencies for three weeks, ending a five-week partial shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.

Friday, News 3 traveled to Montgomery, Alabama for a story focusing on the SNAP or Supplemental Nutritional Food Assistance program. The reopening means for the first time in a few weeks Alabama Department of Human Resource officials are optimistic food assistance benefits will be paid in March. The state agency is responsible for distributing federal SNAP program benefits to 740,000 Alabamians who qualify for the program.

In East Alabama, thousands of families depend on the SNAP benefits. The numbers below are the latest count from November, 2018.

  • Barbour County – 2,197 families
  • Chambers County – 2,455 families
  • Macon County – 2,197 families
  • Lee County – 6,190 families
  • Russell County – 4,403 families

Barry Spear is the public information manager for the Alabama Department of Human Resources. Spear explains each month the state agency distributes around 90-million dollars in federal SNAP benefits to 350,000 households.

“The majority of people on the SNAP Program are children, disabled and the elderly. The average person receives $120 a month for food. I feel hopeful the federal government will get this taken care of, and March will be okay,” said Spear.

Spear says the state worked with the United States Department of Agriculture to fund SNAP families through February by doing an early issuance on their EBT cards.

“Now those benefits have to last.  They are not extra benefits it is just an early deposit put on your EBT Card,” explained Spear.
   
However, even after Friday’s announcement to reopen the government for three weeks, Alabama DHR still has no firm plans on how to distribute March benefits.  Spear is optimistic the funds will be available. However, he is urging SNAP families to be conservative. He says many families mistakenly believe they have to spend their snap benefits before the end of the month or lose them. Spear says that’s not true.
     
“Your benefits are good on that card as long as you are using that card,” said Spear.
   
Families are being encouraged to shop wisely.

“Be careful what you buy, try to make it non-perishable foods, like canned goods and frozen foods,” Spear advised.
          
States are still awaiting word from the USDA on SNAP benefits for March.

“I know we are good for February and we are comfortable with February. But if it goes into March, we don’t know. People will have to find other ways to feed their families if they don’t have those benefits available to them in March,” said Spear.

News 3 has reached out to the USDA for an updated statement on food assistance programs and issuing benefits.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue released this statement on the USDA website on the re-opening.

“President Trump’s announcement of the reopening of the federal government is welcome news, as it will bring thousands of our employees back to work and return us to our mission of providing our customers with the services they rely upon.  I extend my sincere thanks to the thousands of USDA workers who stayed on the job during the shutdown to offer as many of our normal activities as we could.  The President has already signed legislation that guarantees backpay for all employees, and we will move forward on that as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, we will prepare for a smooth reestablishment of USDA functions.

“There will now be sufficient time for Congress to come to an agreement with the President on his pledge to protect our national security by securing our southern border with a reliable, effective barrier.”

News 3 will keep you updated if and when details emerge regarding March benefits for federally funded food assistance programs.

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