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With shutdown over, food stamp benefits won’t come until March

SALISBURY — Five days after food stamp recipients received their February benefits early, President Donald Trump announced a temporary end to the partial government shutdown.

But the three-week extension of government funding that brought has provided little certainty for local agencies handling food stamps and other federally funded programs.

Donna Fayko, director of the Rowan County Department of Social Services, said the agency is “waiting to see what happens.”

The early dispersal of funds has the potential to hurt more than hinder, Fayko said. No food stamps will be dispersed in February, meaning some recipients could see as many as 60 days without additional benefits.

“The concern is that food stamp consumers may not budget appropriately to where they’re able to make sure they have enough to last until March,” said Fayko.

Accordingly, federal officials are working with local social service agencies and food pantries as they brace for a potential food crisis.

Fayko said the Department of Social Services will be working with local food pantries such as Rowan Helping Ministries in Salisbury and Main Street Mission in China Grove to prepare for the anticipated increase in people seeking support.

This may include additional food drives and outreach efforts, though these are still in the planning phase, she said.

Addressing myths around the early dispersement, Fayko asked food stamp recipients to be aware that benefits do not have to be used by the end of January.

“In fact, it will create a crisis if they do use them,” she said, adding that there will be no expiration to the early stamp allotments.

Fayko said the reopening of the government had changed one aspect of the department’s food and nutrition program — the staff was once more able to process applications for food stamp services.

During the shutdown, the department had been able to only accept applications rather than move the applications up the federal chain.

From there, Fayko said the rest is a waiting game until budgets are in place for government operations. Applications may be processed, but funding availability remains an uncertainty.

February benefits — amounting to $4.8 billion nationally — were funded through the expiring government spending bill.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, only has $3 billion in contingency money.

“It’s day by day at this point,” Fayko said. “People can apply for food stamps right now, today. We can go ahead and process as usual, but if there’s no money and the USDA is shut down, there’s not much more we can do.”

Contact reporter Andy Foley at 704-797-4246.

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