Washington – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has moved to prevent a cutoff or curtailment of food stamps and other nutrition programs endangered by the shutdown — programs that help feed hundreds of thousands of Connecticut residents.

Late Tuesday, the USDA announced it would allow states to apply for February benefits this month and provide them early to recipients. The program, known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides food stamps to more than 384,000 individuals in 215,000 Connecticut households.

The USDA said it is relying on a provision in the last temporary budget bill that funded the agency, but expired on Dec. 21, that provided allowed SNAP and school lunch programs to continue for another 30 days past the expiration of the USDA’s budget.

The USDA also said it has found money to continue other nutrition programs at least through February, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which serves about 48,000 women and children in Connecticut.

The agency also said it would continue to provide commodities to food banks and food pantries and to low-income seniors who rely on the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides nearly t 2,500 Connecticut residents age 60 and over with packages of food.

“Our motto here at USDA has been to ‘Do Right and Feed Everyone,’” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “With this solution, we’ve got the ‘Feed Everyone’ part handled. And I believe that the plan we’ve constructed takes care of the ‘Do Right’ part as well.”

Last month, the USDA told Connecticut and other states they had the option of funding these nutrition programs themselves when federal money ran out at the end of January and receive reimbursement when the shuttered federal agencies were reopened. That would have presented newly inaugurated Gov. Ned Lamont with some tough choices.

Now those tough choices are postponed.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, called the USDA’s moves to continue the nutrition programs, at least temporarily, “another haphazard, politically-motivated attempt to continue President Trump’s ill-conceived shutdown.”

“This proposal shifts responsibility from the Trump Administration to State SNAP agencies, who must now rush to get benefits out by January 20,” DeLauro said.

On Wednesday, DeLauro also tweeted “@USDA’s last minute “fix” only previously used for *natural disasters* tells States to send out SNAP benefits early, before the shutdown catches up to them. By their own admission, the #TrumpShutdown is a disaster.”

The Connecticut Department of Social Services, which administers the food stamp program, said it will know more about the USDA’s plans for SNAP through a conference call with agency officials Wednesday afternoon.

Shannon Yearwood, executive director for End Hunger Connecticut! said she is concerned food stamp recipients may not realize that all the benefits they receive in January, which under the USDA’s plan would also include February benefits, “must last until the end of February…creating problems at the end of the month.”

“Some may consider it a bonus for January,” she said.

Yearwood also said she is concerned nutrition programs will be strained as 800,000 federal workers, about 1,500 of them in Connecticut, stop receiving paychecks as a result of the shutdown.

“This is happening at a time when a lot of those folks are having to sign up for these programs as well,” Yearwood said.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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