The federal government shutdown is beginning to impact the food security of the nation’s poor and most vulnerable. Chaffee County Director of the Dept. of Human Services Dave Henson sounded the alarm on Monday during the Commissioners Work session, that those Chaffee County individuals and families who have been receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have until 4:00 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15 to re-verify their eligibility, or they will get no February assistance. The Department has been trying to reach out to the 67 county families already in the SNAP program to tell them they have to re-verify, or they will get no assistance after Jan. 30.
“Our biggest concern at this point is around food security for the clients we serve in this county,” said Henson. “We found out about this last Friday at 3:00 p.m. that SNAP is going to do an emergency push to these families to try to help meet their food needs. We have to re-verify them by tomorrow afternoon, a couple weeks earlier than normal, and we’ve only been able to reach 19 of them. We urgently need help to reach out to these people, to let them know so they don’t get left with no food.”
SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net. If federal funding remains cut off, some 40 million families across the U.S. living on the financial edge will be affected.
Henson said they did a conference call last Thursday afternoon with the federal SNAP liaison and “he had no idea what was going on. He told us he was intentionally being left in the dark so he wouldn’t give out the wrong information. There is no federal plan in place, and the state is transitioning between Governors, so we don’t have a Colorado Director of Human Services.”
Henson indicated that the skeleton federal staff at the Dept. of Human Services is trying to get a plan in place to push emergency food benefits out through February to states with the highest needs. Colorado qualifies to be included among those states, meaning that SNAP assistance would continue through February.
Another federal program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) helps supplement the diets of low-income Americans, including elderly people is also in crisis. It provides emergency food and nutrition assistance at no cost, to states to supplement the diets of at-risk populations, including the elderly. Henson said that program is also in crisis, as funding into it ceased Dec. 21 as the shutdown began. It functions in concert with the Dept. of Agriculture, using the excess product production subsidies from farmers, to provide emergency food assistance. There has been no new funding for TEFAP since the Dec. 21 government shutdown; it’s authorized, but not being funded right now.
“Our TEFAP program technically doesn’t exist now,” said Henson. “We have adequate reserves and so does the state, but the emergency food assistance program is the one at our Salida Community Center. People count on that. Locally, there will be nothing coming in.”
Henson said the USDA is trying to get what funds it has out to the SNAP emergency food program, and decided to add this mid-month verification to move the funds out to families before anymore dire circumstances occur.
“The Colorado Benefit Management System isn’t built for this – we’ve never had to do a second delivering in a month and we’re dealing with strict timelines,” said Henson. “As of 4:00 pm. tomorrow (Tuesday, Jan 15) anyone not re-verified will be out of the system and won’t get benefits for February.”
Henson estimates that only 40 percent of the SNAP assistance families will get re-verified. The deadline does not affect anyone new just coming into the SNAP program.
“These are people who have no reserves at all, by definition,” said Commissioner Keith Baker. “This is serious.”
“We’re concerned about food security for these folks, even the ones who get verified now, we’re only talking about February support,” said Henson who said he’s never experienced a shutdown of this magnitude. “It seems there are some stubborn personalities at the federal level right now – I didn’t think it was going to get like this.”
“Say we get to Feb. 1 and we have these families in need who haven’t gotten funding, do you have other avenues to help them?” asked Chair Greg Felt.
Henson said that CDHS is already working on some ideas for how to assist families needing emergency food subsidies affected by this SNAP funding emergency and will present those to Chaffee County Commissioners.
Those needing to re-verify their eligibility should submit their paper work in the Chaffee County Dept. of Human Services, in Salida at 448 E 1st St, Salida, or 114 Linderman in Buena Vista by the 4:00 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15 deadline. The Salida office is open from 8:15 a.m. To 4:45 p.m. and the Buena Vista office is open from 8:15 a.m. To 12:30 p.m. Those who don’t have their paper would should call CDHS at 719-530-2500 and work with staff to re-verify.