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by Sharon Rondeau

SNAP benefits are allocated through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

(Oct. 16, 2013) — In early August, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities announced that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), administered by the USDA and formerly known as “food stamps,” would reduce benefits to virtually all families which had received a temporary increase as a result of the 2009 passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The reduction date was “accelerated” by two additional laws passed by Congress in 2010 and signed by Obama to provide “fiscal relief” to the states ” through additional federal funding for school districts to maintain teachers’ jobs and maintaining a higher federal match for Medicaid costs.”  The food stamp reduction is described as “non-discretionary.”

More than 23,000,000 families living below, at or, to some degree, above the official poverty level receive food stamp benefits each month.  In 2011, the number of SNAP recipients was reported to be 44.2 million.

Millions of Americans and Europeans have fallen into poverty since the economic downturn began in 2007.  Last month, Reuters reported that 46.5 million “U.S. residents,” or 15% of the population, were living in poverty in 2012.

The “Food Stamp” program began in 1964 with the passage of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” enactments which included Head Start, Medicare, and Medicaid to fight a “war on poverty.”  A Missouri teacher describes LBJ’s programs as an “American safety net.”

A Fox affiliate in Salt Lake City, UT reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA.gov) has asked that November allotments of SNAP benefits be withheld from Utah recipients for the month of November, citing a letter posted on a Salt Lake City food bank’s Facebook page.

The letter directed states which issue SNAP benefits on the 15th of the month for the following month to withhold those allotments because of “operational issues and constraints that States face, and in the interest of preserving maximum flexibility.”

A certain amount of panic appears to have appeared on the internet regarding the alleged unavailability of November SNAP benefits and the prospect of civil unrest, spurred by two electronic glitches occurring on October 12 which either showed unlimited spending for recipients or no spending allocation at all.  The October 12 incidents were said by a USDA spokesperson not to be related to the partial government shutdown which began October 1.

The associate director at Crossroads linked the government shutdown to the letter from the USDA suggesting that the disbursement of early benefits be delayed.

Before the shutdown commenced, it was reported that all USDA employees not considered “excepted” would be furloughed in the event of a shutdown but that food stamps would be issued for the month of October.  Those excepted from furlough totaled 19, according to Agweek.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigations and inspections were expected to continue during a shutdown.  CBS reported that while SNAP benefits would be distributed as before, other programs such as WIC would likely close.  A different report stated that WIC and SNAP would be unaffected in October but that “future of issuances for November and beyond are unclear.”

Providence’s ABC6 reported that “Many federally funded programs in Rhode Island have stopped serving the public” but went on to say that SNAP and WIC benefits were unaffected for Rhode Islanders in October without providing examples of those which are allegedly closed.  “Since nobody knows when the government shut down will end some are worried that soon, they may not be able to get the federal assistance they rely on, on a daily basis,” ABC reported.

WIC is reportedly closed in Utah.

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which demolished parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, President George W. Bush stated that “poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday and let us rise above the legacy of inequality. When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets,” for which Alan Colmes labeled him “racist.”

Obama’s approach to poverty has been to “redistribute the wealth” and raise the national minimum wage, invest more money in public education, and repair “crumbling infrastructure.”

Obama has been called “the Food Stamp president” because of a reported 93.38% increase in SNAP benefits from 2001 to 2009, although in the eight years of Bush’s two terms, Food Stamp use rose 63%.  From January 2009 to April 2013, SNAP recipients increased by 16,000,000.

A SNAP recipient in Connecticut received the following letter explaining the reduction in benefits for November 1:

The website for the Connecticut Secretary of State contains links to articles which report that “state regulations” are hampering Connecticut’s economy.

A “deal” to reopen shuttered government departments and possibly raise the debt ceiling has reportedly been introduced by the U.S. Senate.

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