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Government Shutdown 2021: Will SNAP Benefits Be Impacted?

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The prospect of a government shutdown has many Americans nervous, especially those who depend on federal benefits to help them pay bills, buy necessities and obtain healthcare. With only a patch extending the current debt limit, President Joe Biden warned that another “no” vote could push the U.S. closer to defaulting on loans and going into a recession.

It’s especially worrying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients, who depend on the program to feed their families.

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Protections are in place to ensure the distribution of SNAP benefits during a shutdown, at least for the short term. But a lengthy shutdown with no debt ceiling increase would severely limit the government’s ability to borrow money and fund programs, meaning SNAP payments could face severe reductions and delays, according to the non-profit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Last week, a bill was passed to fund the government through Dec. 3 after Yellen warned that by Oct. 18 the government will essentially run out of money and be faced with the prospect of shutting down nonessential federal services, GOBankingRates reported.

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Essential services, or those related to public safety, will continue operating.

But there are exceptions. For example, the SNAP program would continue to operate even after a shutdown, according to a contingency plan from the USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.

That plan states that in the event of a lapse in annual appropriations (e.g., a shutdown), the contingency calls for “the continuation of the essential Federal activities and funding to maintain the core programs of the nutrition safety net, including the Supplemental  Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Child Nutrition (CN) programs, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).”

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But that plan only covers a few days after a shutdown begins. If the shutdown stretches on for weeks or more, the CBPP said the government “would need to impose a sharp, massive spending reduction totaling roughly $1.2 trillion just in fiscal year 2022,” which amounts to a reduction of about 30% over the course of the year for every federal program except Social Security, Medicare Hospital Insurance and interest.

“These reductions would have a wide-ranging impact across the United States, leaving households, businesses, and nonprofits unable to pay their bills while they wait for payments they are legally owed,” the CBPP said.

Among the examples it cites: Low-income households receiving SNAP benefits “could see their benefits held up” for weeks or even months.

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Last Updated: October 6, 2021