Shutdown could stop November food stamps
Food stamp recipients in Texas need to prepare for a reduction in benefits with or without continued gridlock in Washington but nutrition programs for pregnant women, new moms and babies aren't in immediate jeopardy.
A prolonged federal government shutdown might delay November's disbursements to millions of Texans, but a planned cut to food stamps - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP - already was set to begin next month.
In Texas, more than 3.4 million people representing 1.4 million families receive federal SNAP benefits, which are administered by the state. In the greater Houston area, roughly 800,000 people depend on the supplement.
The potential double-whammy looming in the food stamp program dates back to the 2009 stimulus.
"They passed a big increase and tried to see if the normal annual cost-of-living increases would catch up," said Texas Health and Human Services Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman.
That didn't happen. So, whenever SNAP cards are reset next month, the amounts will be roughly $11 less per person.
"For a low-income family, that's going to be a hit," Goodman said.
Talisha Burnom, a 30-year-old mother of three, said she didn't know food stamps could be affected by the shutdown.
"How am I going to feed my children?" she said outside of the Texas Health and Human Services office on Harwin.
Pregnant women and guardians of youngsters will continue to receive benefits through the Women, Infants and Children program, also known as WIC, because the state has enough money to keep the program running - for now.
Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman Carrie Williams said the agency will make its $48 million-a-month commitment in October to provide supplemental nutrition and education to nearly 950,000 low-income pregnant women, mothers and children.
"We're using federal funds we had before the shutdown to continue to provide services," she wrote in an email. "If the shutdown continues, it could start impacting services in the longer term."
Juanita Davis, who renewed her WIC benefits on Wednesday and receives food stamps, said she's concerned about how the government shutdown would impact her 10-day-old daughter, Ta'Nita.
"It might affect us getting food and me taking care of my brand-new daughter," the 26-year-old said outside of Houston's Southwest Multi-Service Center. If her benefits were cut, Davis, her mother and her niece would turn to community resources.
"We usually go to the churches that have food," she said.
Houston Food Bank spokeswoman Betsy Ballard said her agency has been preparing for the Nov. 1 food stamp reduction.
"That alone could cause an increase in the need that will be visible at our partner agencies - the food pantries and kitchens. And then you have the shutdown roll along and that puts a lot of question marks and uncertainty across the board," she said.
The food bank, which serves at least 137,000 meals weekly, estimates that an average greater Houston family of four will have a $36 decrease in SNAP benefits beginning in November. The shutdown also could reduce the agency's supply that comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ballard said, though the food bank should be OK for about one month.
"We just hope we don't get to the point where we're at a real crisis situation," she added. "We are also concerned that the people really in need are going to panic with all of this uncertainty. We don't want to cause urgency immediately because we may be just fine."