FoodStamps

Photo provided by dcfs.la.gov -- Louisiana Purchase Automated Benefit Card

Louisiana residents who rely on food stamps will receive their benefits at least through February, even as a federal government shutdown stretches on with no end in sight.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, in a call with reporters on Tuesday, announced that officials have found a method for ensuring February benefits for the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps, will be funded despite the ongoing partial government shutdown that began Dec. 22.

“I know there has been genuine concern across America about what will happen with these benefits,” Perdue said.

Nearly 1 in 5 people in Louisiana receives food stamps — more than 850,000 people each year, many of them families with children

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, which administers the federally funded food stamp program, had previously been told that benefits were guaranteed through January. Under the new plan described by Perdue, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will work with states to implement an “early issuance” of February benefits to work around a federal funding deadline. Across the country, more than 19 million households receive SNAP benefits that could be impacted if there were a lapse in funding.

Recipients should see no disruption in their benefits, even if the government remains shut down amid President Donald Trump’s standoff with congressional leaders over funding for a wall along the Mexican border. Trump is requesting more than $5 billion for the border wall, which is part of his attempt to curb illegal immigration.

Perdue, a Trump appointee who previously was governor of Georgia, called on the U.S. House and Senate to reach an agreement that meets Trump’s demands.

“The president has been clear about what he expects to see,” he said. “For now, we’ve solved the problem about what to do about February benefits. The next question will be ‘What about March?’”

Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Brandon Lipps, who also briefed reporters on the plan Tuesday, said the USDA is notifying each state of the requirements to file for benefits ahead of normal schedule and by Jan. 20.

“We know this is a time of uncertainty and anxiety for those who depend on SNAP,” Lipp said. “Making this work in practice will require close coordination with states and EBT (electronic benefit transfer) vendors.”

He stressed that recipients should not see disruptions and likely will have access to benefits ahead of schedule.

“It’s important that recipients know that they have all options to sign up and use their benefits during this time,” he said.

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Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.