The Trump administration said it will cover food stamp benefits in February using its authority under a provision of an expired continuing resolution that allows it to obligate federal funds within 30 days of expiration.
That move to use the stopgap measure that expired Dec. 21 would give USDA the $4.8 billion it would need to provide funding if the partial government shutdown continues into next month. This is the first time the department has used the method because of a government shutdown.
The announcement Tuesday came just before President Donald Trump was scheduled to address the nation about the impasse with congressional Democrats over funding for a border wall that the president calls critical for controlling illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a call with reporters, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue urged Congress to approve funding for border security and physical barriers and send Trump spending legislation he will sign to reopen the Agriculture Department and eight other cabinet departments.
Perdue said Trump instructed USDA and the Office of Management and Budget to find a way to provide SNAP benefits in February.
Perdue and Brandon Lipps, acting deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, said the budget authority under Section 110 (b) of the continuing resolution will allow the Agriculture Department to deliver full benefits to all current beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program. More than 38 million low-income Americans rely on SNAP benefits.
The program’s $3 billion contingency reserve fund will not be tapped for the February benefits, Lipps said.
Perdue and Lipps said USDA will provide technical assistance to state agencies to make sure they make a Jan. 20 deadline to distribute the February benefits. The states will send electronic files with the benefits to the three companies authorized to load the funds onto the electronic benefit cards. SNAP recipients use these cards to redeem their benefits at participating grocery and food stores.
Under the SNAP program, USDA provides all funding for monthly benefits while state agencies actually operate the program and distribute benefits.
Perdue and Lipps said USDA and states use advanced benefits in times of impending natural disasters to make sure SNAP recipients are not left without food aid.
Lipps said other key USDA nutrition programs such as the national school lunch and breakfast program will have funds through March 1. Lipps said state agencies will use carry-over funds to continue benefits for the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program for pregnant and post-partum women and children up to the age of five.
Watch: What really happens during a government shutdown, explained