Thank goodness for cereal.
Christine, a Montgomery County SNAP recipient who did not provide her last name, is already thinking ahead to how she will feed her family if their benefits run out.
“Good thing is that I have really, really little kids who will be happy with some cereal,” she said.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program usually provides a welcome reprieve for her family every month, she said. But with the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history stretching into a fourth week, Christine is increasingly worried.
Christine, who described herself as “really low income,” is trying to play it smart. Like other SNAP recipients, Christine was recently notified that she will receive her February benefits early.
What will happen next month is anyone’s guess.
“The hardest part now is trying to hold onto some of it in case I don’t get enough in March,” she said. “A lot of food banks are already crowded. Everybody is panicking.”
Some of that panic was palpable as dozens of shoppers crowded into North Philadelphia’s Cousin's grocery store Tuesday morning. Several people were confused about their SNAP benefits — at least one woman thought the program was ending altogether.
“How will we survive if they keep taking it away?” Philadelphia resident Blanca Yamas said. “We’ll have to go to churches to beg ... or wherever else they hand out food.”
When asked if she has a Plan B for feeding her household, she said that was it.
“I just keep thinking I’ll have to rely on the churches,” she said.
Another shopper, who identified himself as 007, said he couldn’t wait for the extra money.
“That’s a good deal,” he said. “I’m gonna buy as many groceries as I can buy ‘cause after that I ain’t gonna get none. That might be it.”
Christine, Yamas and 007 are not alone. Nearly two million Pennsylvanians use SNAP, according to the state Department of Human Services. At least half of those people live in Philadelphia.
In New Jersey, 730,000 people rely on federal assistance for food and another 150,000 Delawareans use the program, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
Nearly half of all SNAP recipients are children, according to Feeding America.
"Our constituents have been reaching out to us because they are living in fear," recently elected U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa. 5th), who represents South Philadelphia, said. "Credit card debt and outstanding medical bills will follow our families for years."
What You Can Do
Organizations throughout the region are rushing to help the millions of local residents experiencing food insecurity. Philabundance, which serves 90,000 people in the Delaware Valley every week, is encouraging those who have not been furloughed to send in cash donations to supplement some of the donations that have been canceled by furloughed government employees.
Where You Can Get Food
Philabundance is looking at ways to help feed both furloughed employees and SNAP recipients. If you are a member of the Coast Guard or TSA, stay tuned for updates on how you can get food donations in the coming weeks.
If you are a SNAP recipient, click through the Philabundance website to find a distribution center near you. There are 370 options in the Delaware Valley.
If you are a senior citizen and live in Montgomery County, check out the local chapter of Hunger Solutions. Food boxes for the elderly will be provided through May, according to director Patrick Drew.
South Jersey residents can reach out to the Food Bank, which “stands ready to meet the challenges and provide food to populations affected, including federal workers who may need assistance.” Click here to find a distribution center near you.
Delawareans should reach out to the Food Bank of Delaware by clicking here.
What Will Happen to SNAP?
This is one of the biggest questions regarding the shutdown. A bill is currently sitting in the U.S. Senate that would reopen some of the agencies affected, but no vote is currently scheduled.
What Should SNAP Recipients Do in the Meantime?
Shop wisely. You will see extra money come in for January, but remember those funds are meant to last through the end of February. There is currently no contingency plan for March.
Can I Still Apply for SNAP?
Yes. New applications are still being processed as usual.