— The food assistance that millions of low-income families rely on each month would be temporarily cut off in the case of a government shutdown, federal officials say.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week notified states that there could be a delay in transferring the funds for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The USDA typically transfers funds to 37 states on the first of the month. Michigan starts to issue benefits on the third of every month.

With just eight days to go before the authorization for federal spending expires Sept. 30, Republicans need to realize their “political brinksmanship” will have a real, human impact,” U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said Tuesday.

“We’ve seen this movie before, “ Stabenow told reporters on a call. “It’s irresponsible.”

Even running up to the deadline of Sept. 30 or Oct. 1 to come to an agreement would have consequences for families, Stabenow said, because the USDA needs a few days of lead time to send the funds to states.

She referred to this week’s visit to the U.S. by Pope Francis, and his upcoming address to Congress on Thursday.

“The pope is going to offer us an opportunity to be inspired to work together on behalf of our higher angels and look for ways where we’re coming together to represent the best about us in our country, and certainly making sure that seniors and children and people with disabilities are able to have meals on October 1 and be able to eat and families can have basic food assistance,” said Stabenow, the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture panel.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, who joined Stabenow on the call, urged his Republican colleagues not to force a shutdown, saying it would have a “catastrophic impact” for families who rely on food stamps to supplement their monthly income.

A $3 billion contingency fund maintained for food stamps is insufficient to cover the $6 billion USDA spends monthly on benefits, Merkley said.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility to let this happen,” said Merkley, who heads the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

“I know that the administration is going to keep working night and day to try to find a way to avoid this but, as of now, what the are conveying to us is they do not have the legislative authority to avert this problem. If we don’t resolve the budget in the next few days, it may be impossible — even if we vote Sept. 30 — to have the funds in place October 1.”

Food stamps weren’t in immediate jeopardy during the 2013 government shutdown because the USDA, which administers the program, was able to use leftover stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to keep food assistance flowing to families. Those funds have now expired.

The SNAP program assists 45 million low-income Americans each month, and 60 percent of SNAP participants are children, seniors or people with disabilities, according to the USDA.


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