Government shutdown 101: What does it mean for welfare and food stamps?

For many social-welfare programs, money is distributed from the federal government quarterly or monthly, so there will be little impact unless the shutdown drags on for weeks.

Mike Groll / AP
Phillip Castillo works at a farmer's market vegetable stand that accepts food stamp tokens, in this 2008 photo from Schenectady, N.Y. Many social-welfare programs like food stamps are administered by the states but funded by the federal government, but their funding will not be disrupted by a short government shutdown.

Safety-net programs designed to help families should weather a government shutdown without major disruptions – although it's hard to know for sure ahead of time, say public officials in Washington and across the nation

For some key programs, public policy experts say funding conditions should be solid for at least a short shutdown. That goes for a major welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the program once known as food stamps – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Many such assistance programs are administered at the state level.

"For a short-term situation, we'll be able to weather [a shutdown] fairly well," says Geralyn Lasher, director of communications for Gov. Rick Snyder (R) of Michigan.

As of late Friday, negotiators for House Republicans and Senate Democrats were still struggling to find a last-minute compromise to fund the federal government for the final six months of the year.

Without such a deal by midnight – or a temporary "continuing resolution" – much federal activity would shut down, but activities considered essential would continue.

"There would be no effect on states receiving their federal funds to run TANF," says a summary of shutdown-related information compiled on the website of Rep. Jim Renacci (R) of Ohio.

Unlike many federal programs, where funding hinges on this week's high-stakes budget talks, TANF already has money approved to take it through the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

Food stamps and school lunches, while not in as strong a position as TANF, also should function fairly normally during a short shutdown, Mr. Renacci's website says: "Unless the shutdown dragged on to May there would be no impact by the schools. The [school lunch] program is reimbursed on a quarterly basis and the next reimbursement would be in May."

In a number of social-welfare programs, money is distributed quarterly or monthly, helping to mitigate the potential impact of a short shutdown.

For nutrition programs, what's worrisome is not knowing what would happen if a shutdown lasted beyond a few weeks, says Ellen Vollinger, legal director at the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center in Washington.

The National Association of State Budget Officers puts the situation this way: "Should a federal government shutdown continue for multiple months, it could create significant funding difficulties for those programs that are federally-funded but state-run."

The association adds that a long shutdown could strain agencies with state employees "whose salary is partly paid for with federal funds."

Government shutdown 101:

Introduction: What would a shutdown mean for you?

Part 1: What does it mean for veterans?

Part 2: Will I still have to file my taxes?

Part 3: Will Social Security and Medicare be affected?

Part 4: What does it mean for the military?

Part 5: What does it mean for homeland security?

Part 6: What does it mean for Medicaid?

Part 7: How will it affect unemployment insurance?

Part 8: What does it mean for welfare and food stamps?


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