Please find below an update from Georgia D. Katsoulomitis, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) on the federal government shutdown, with a specific focus on low income residents who receive or are applying for food assistance, health care, or cash assistance benefits.
As you know, the federal shutdown went into effect on December 21. The following summarizes the state of core programs in Massachusetts as of January 15, 2019.
Food Assistance – SNAP Benefits:
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is working closely with the Department of Transitional Assistance, the four state Food Banks and Project Bread to get information out to the anti-hunger network about the steps under way to ensure needy families and individuals get access to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits they are eligible to receive.
USDA has required states to issue the February benefits before January 20th. DTA is actively working on that. DTA will also be processing pending and new SNAP applications and renewals after this week. SNAP benefits will continue to be paid as long as USDA’s “Contingency fund” lasts. However, the Contingency funds are substantially less than what will be needed to fully fund SNAP benefits for March 2019.
Materials and resources:
- MLRI, with input from the four Food Banks and Project Bread, has created a flier about what’s happening in SNAP for you to share with your constituents – in ENGLISH and SPANISH.
- Here’s a link to DTA’s shutdown webpage, which includes a helpful Q &A for SNAP households and community groups. DTA will be regularly updating that webpage, as well as updating their recording on the main DTA Assistance Line: 1-877-382-2362
- Project Bread’s Food Source Hotline can also advise constituents and refer individual to key resources. 1-800-645-8333
- The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has an excellent 1/10/19 policy memo with more background and Politico has done a very thorough job explaining this issue as well.
Notwithstanding the extensive efforts by DTA to quickly respond to this shutdown crisis, we remain concerned that there will be widespread confusion about the early release of the February SNAP benefits, as well as possible panic by recipients to spend the funds quickly for fear that unspent SNAP benefits will be expunged. That should NOT happen, but civil legal aid programs and community partners have already received many inquiries about what will happen to SNAP benefits.
We are also concerned about food access in February when there will be NO additional SNAP benefits for households that got their February benefit this week. SNAP benefits are intended to supplement resources (the average MA benefit is $124/mo/person). As a result, we anticipate increased demand in February for emergency food from food pantries and community meals (funded via TEFAP and MEFAP). MLRI, the Food Banks and Project Bread are prepared to work with all members to address these concerns and funding shortfalls.
Food Assistance – WIC, School Meals and TEFAP:
Neither the Women Infant and Children’s (WIC) nutritional program, nor school meals (National School Lunch Program) benefits are immediately (this month) impacted by the shutdown. These programs have federal funding through the end of February, but beyond that, funding is uncertain. WIC dollars may be available to temporarily keep the WIC program running.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) purchases that have already been confirmed with a contract will be delivered to food banks, however food banks will take on the burden of the storage costs until the shutdown has ended. This should cover most (not all) of the food orders through March – but will not cover increased demand. The state MEFAP funds may be insufficient to meet growing costs and demand.
Cash Assistance: TAFDC, EAEDC, Veterans Services, SSI:
The two DTA-administered cash assistance programs – Transitional Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and state-funded Emergency Aid to Elders, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) – are not at currently risk. Cash benefits to eligible households should continue. (TAFDC is partially HHS funded through the TANF block grant). The Veterans Services Chapter 115 Program benefits are also not at risk as they are local and state funded. See the Chpt 115 Self Help Guide. And Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is also fully funded through September.
Medical Assistance – MassHealth , Medicare, etc:
Federal Health and Human Services (HHS) is funded through Sept 2019. That means MassHealth recipients should not need to worry about the effect of the federal government partial shut-down on MassHealth, Medicare and most other government-funded health programs (except for the Indian Health Service, which is not funded by HHS, for example in Mashpee). We will send you updates as they become available.
Federally Subsidized Housing:
Low income families and elder/disabled tenants that receive federal rental assistance are facing severe hardship now, which will worsen if the shutdown extends into February or March. Under the shutdown, HUD can’t renew up to 1,150 rental assistance contracts with private landlords, contracts that expired in December or will expire in January or February. This impacts 56 privately-owned HUD subsidized developments in Massachusetts and may affect over 1,650 low income households.
Materials and resources:
- The Citizens Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) posted an update as of Day 18 here.
- The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) also has useful a detailed memo (1/10/19) on HUD guidance and potential impact around the country,
Georgia D. Katsoulomitis
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI)
40 Court Street, Suite 800
Boston, MA 02108
617-357-0700 x314 (office-direct)
617-357-0700 (main #)