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Blame it on federal govt shutdown — WIC, SNAP funds in jeopardy

United States Capitol building
ASG only has enough money to fund food stamps and WIC up to next month

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — As the partial federal government shutdown continues — in its third week — with no apparent end in sight, individuals receiving benefits like food stamps and WIC checks are left wondering — if and when — they will be cut off.

A CBS news report yesterday noted that "if the government is not reopened before February, millions of Americans who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — the nation's food stamp program — could have their assistance disrupted."

Samoa News understands that — for now — food stamps and WIC checks will continue to be disbursed, as Governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga has approved a request to exempt the Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS), the local administrator of the food stamp and WIC programs, from December's general memorandum through which Lolo identified federal departments impacted by the partial shutdown as: Homeland Security, Justice, State Department, Interior, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Commerce.

“Because of the significant role federal grant funding plays in the territorial government’s funding matrix and cash flow, we must necessarily be conservative in expending funds during those times when the flow of some of our federal funds may be in doubt,” the governor wrote.

DHSS director Muavaefa'atasi John Suisala told Samoa News yesterday that "core programs of the federal nutrition safety net, which include food stamps and WIC, are considered exceptions and continue to operate during a lapse in federal appropriations — as long as funds are available to sustain these services."

He continued, "This is the key: the availability of funds to maintain the programs."

While one of the affected agencies — the US Department of Agriculture — funds the ASNAP and ASWIC, Muavaefa'atasi said American Samoa still has money available to sustain these services, meaning food stamps and WIC checks will be disbursed this month and next month. However, he added, the available funds only cover these benefits up to next month.

This is in line with what the USDA is saying. It has noted that with SNAP,  the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are not receiving federal funds at all during the shutdown, but "can continue to operate at the State and local level with any funding and commodity resources that remain available,"

By March, if there is no resolution to the partial government shut down, benefits for local WIC and food stamp recipients may come to a halt.

Muavaefa’atasi said other programs under DHSS that are not affected include Behavioral Health Services, Child Care Program, Children and Family Services, Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, Special Projects and Community Assistance Division. 

These programs are funded under the US Department of Health and Human Services, which is not affected by the partial shutdown, as it is fully funded for Fiscal Year 2019.

In the first five months of 2018, around 7 million Americans received WIC benefits each month. WIC is provided for pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 who fall within the poverty index and are at "nutritional risk." The WIC program granted nearly $5 billion to every U.S. state and territory in 2018, as of September.

Americans who benefit from both SNAP and WIC would be particularly affected in February.

Child Nutrition Programs, including School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care Feeding, Summer Food Service and Special Milk will continue operations through February, according to the USDA.

Staffing for Food and Nutrition Services, which oversees the Child Nutrition Programs, SNAP, and WIC, has been cut by 95 percent since the shutdown began.