Louisiana residents who rely on food stamps will get their February benefits early under a deal the federal government hashed out to fund the program despite the federal government shutdown.
But state officials are warning families that the benefits they receive in the coming days are not bonuses and will need to be budgeted to stretch at least until March.
“That is not an additional benefit," Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday. "That benefit you get is going to have to carry you all the way through the month of February.”
The state Department of Children and Family Services, which oversees the federally-funded food stamp program in Louisiana, launched a portal this week to answer questions about the shutdown's impact on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps.
"Unfortunately, we are seeing some misinformation about Louisiana SNAP benefits as a result of people sharing information from other states," DCFS said in a news release.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP on the federal level, announced last week that it had figured out a way to fund February benefits, but they would be distributed early to work around restrictions tied to the federal government shutdown that began Dec. 22.
“I know there has been genuine concern across America about what will happen with these benefits,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a call with reporters last week.
Nearly 1 in 5 people in Louisiana receives food stamps — more than 850,000 people each year, many of them families with children.
Under the new plan described by Perdue, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working 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.
It's unclear what will happen with March benefits, if the government remains shut down due to President Donald Trump’s impasse 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.
“For now, we’ve solved the problem about what to do about February benefits. The next question will be ‘What about March?’” said Perdue, a Trump appointee who previously was governor of Georgia.
The partial government shutdown, which is the nation's longest ever recorded, has forced thousands of federal workers to go without pay until issues are resolved. Trump this week signed legislation that would guarantee the nearly 800,000 furloughed federal workers will ultimately be compensated when the government re-opens, as has happened in past shutdowns.
Edwards said about 330 federal employees have sought unemployment pay to make up for lost wages in recent weeks.
Leaders have not signaled any movement toward compromise, even as the shutdown stretches into its fourth week.
Trump has suggested that he's willing to keep the government closed for "months or even years" to obtain funding for the border wall that was a focal point of his presidential campaign.