Shutdown could increase food insecurity

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

Recipients of Indiana’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — known as SNAP and formerly known as the Food Stamp Program — may have been surprised when they checked their balances on Wednesday and saw a bigger number than they were expecting.

The extra deposits were no mistake, and the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration is now strongly encouraging recipients to budget what they received earlier this week to ensure it provides for their food needs through the next month.

With the partial government shutdown trudging into its fourth week, dollars meant for use in February were applied to accounts on Wednesday to ensure beneficiaries will have access to the money next month.

Marni Lemons, deputy director of the state agency’s Office of Communications and Media, said that while the federal government informed states that there would be money available to fulfill SNAP benefits through the month of February, those February benefits had to be applied to accounts sometime this week.

As a result, SNAP funds will not be issued next month, regardless of when the shutdown ends.

The SNAP program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and those funds are distributed by Indiana’s FSSA.

When asked if the shutdown could affect recipient’s March benefits, Lemons said “it’s not our place to speculate,” because state employees don’t know what will happen at that time. According to Politifact, the federal department has not announced that benefits will be cut off in March if the shutdown continues.

Mike Hagerdon, president of Dubois County Community Meal, said the county has a “huge food insecurity issue.” Should those benefits disappear in future months, it would be detrimental to the lives of area recipients.

“I won’t quite call it starvation, but it would have a huge impact because they would not be able to fully feed families,” Hagerdon said. “There would simply not be enough money to buy the food.”

Amanda Drew, manager of Community Food Bank Inc. in Jasper, agreed with Hagerdon that the benefits are crucial to some area residents.

“I think it’s very important,” she said of SNAP. “There’s a lot of families that work and just struggle to make ends meet, and utilize that SNAP program to help fill some of those gaps. If we take that away, then I can certainly see our numbers (at the food bank) increasing.”

Lemons expressed gratitude to churches, food banks and other organizations across the state that she said “do a wonderful job of helping to provide food for those in need.”

If the shutdown persists and does affect future SNAP funding, Hagerdon said Community Meal will search for ways to provide more support. The nonprofit currently offers free meals to the public at the St. Vincent de Paul campus, across the parking lot from the Community Food Bank. Food is served from 1 to 3 p.m. on Mondays; 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays; and from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Community Meal also extends a weekly backpack buddy program for students receiving free and reduced lunch at all county elementary schools.

The food bank is open on Meridian Road in Jasper from 1 to 3 p.m. on Mondays; 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays; and 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Those wishing to access the bank’s services must live in Dubois County and be within 185 percent of the poverty level.

Hagerdon hopes St. Joseph Catholic Church — the organization’s primary backer — and other area churches would come together to help meet the community need, should it grow in the face of the shutdown. Drew said the food bank will wait and see what happens in the near future and will address new issues when the time comes.

“If the issues continue in Washington, we need to unite as a community to help those that would suffer otherwise,” Hagerdon said.

In Indiana, 585,000 people receive SNAP benefits. The state’s FSSA will continue to accept and process applications for benefits for January issuance through Thursday, Jan. 31.




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