The government shutdown is hitting home — literally — for millions of Floridians. And not just for federal workers. The Food Assistance of 2,976,519 Floridians who rely on federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to put food on the table every day is in jeopardy.
Already, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) have been forced to devise a work-around to the shutdown to ensure that low-income Floridians have enough to eat in February. Although SNAP benefits in Florida are usually issued during the first few weeks of each month, USDA and DCF joined forces to issue February benefits in January, up to a month earlier than normal, to circumvent effects of the shutdown. Early issuance of February benefits will require extraordinary budgeting skills on the part of recipients. But SNAP recipients in Florida, who receive, on average, a meager $1.37 per person per meal, are masters at stretching their benefits. And thankful that USDA and DCF pulled together to sidestep empty plates in front of their families during February.
Still, if the shutdown continues much longer, it is uncertain whether USDA and DCF have any more band-aids in the box.
It would be simple if the answer was for SNAP recipients to get a job. But SNAP recipients in Florida already have jobs, just not jobs that pay enough to live on. Seventy-nine percent of SNAP families in Florida worked in the past 12 months. At the same time, although they are working, SNAP recipients earn low wages or work unpredictable shifts outside of their control. SNAP recipients are the cashiers at our grocery stores, dishwashers at restaurants, maids at hotels and salespeople at malls. They work at jobs that are important to services that Floridians rely on every day. And, in turn, SNAP is important for them to make ends meet.
Of course, not everyone on SNAP is able to work. Almost 39 percent of SNAP recipients in Florida are in families with a member who is elderly or has a disability while almost 64 percent are in families with children. Yet very few of the families who receive SNAP in Florida get welfare checks. Only 3 percent of SNAP families in Florida get Temporary Cash Assistance, which makes SNAP all the more essential.
There are many unknowns about what will happen to SNAP if the shutdown continues beyond January. But one thing is certain: the longer the shutdown continues, the greater the risk to SNAP and millions of struggling families in Florida.
Let’s hope for an end to the shutdown soon.