The federal government finally reopened in January after being shut down for 35 days—marking the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. This shutdown caused panic for the 40 million people across the country who rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to feed themselves.
Although the shutdown is over, this panic continues for those who spent weeks facing uncertainty about if and when their benefits would be renewed—especially because the funding required to keep the government open is set to expire again on February 15.
“There is always angst amongst marginalized populations, because their entire well being is dependent on someone else,” said Sylvia Soublet, Public Affairs Director at the Alameda County Social Services Agency—the government agency responsible for doling out SNAP benefits in the county. “Can you imagine if that were you in that position, not having any control over waiting to hear if you are going to go through this uncertainty again? There is a certain level of angst that is always present, and this just exacerbates it.”
Here’s what you need to know about how to manage your SNAP benefits—known as CalFresh within California—in case of another government shutdown:
First and foremost, Soublet recommends that anybody who receives benefits from the government make sure they submit all the paperwork that is linked to their benefits while the government is still open. This could prevent you from having to go without your benefits if the government closes again.
Soublet also recommends taking extra care to stay informed about what is happening in the government, and how that might impact your benefits. “If you’re sent a letter, open it,” she says. “You have to take responsibility over consuming information, because information is power.” Soublet recommends keeping an eye on alamedasocialservices.org, which posts regular updates about events that may impact your benefits.
People who are experiencing food insecurity in Alameda County can also use the food bank to supplement their CalFresh benefits. Apart from providing food to other food banks, hot-meal programs, and non-profits, the Alameda County Community Food Bank can help individuals in need find groceries or a meal. To contact the food bank, you can call (510) 635-3663, or visit FoodNow.net, or ComindaAhora.net.
Lastly, Soublet recommends utilizing resources that are provided by the community. “There are a lot of giving programs, people would be surprised,” she says. For example, the Oakland Community Action Program gives out fresh fruits and vegetables to community members in need on a weekly basis. The California Food and Justice Coalition provides grocery assistance, too.
In California, 3.8 million people rely on CalFresh. In Alameda County, the number is 92,600—or six percent of the county’s total population.
In the midst of the government shutdown, all of these recipients received their February benefits almost two weeks early, on January 20. This caused anxiety about whether individuals would be able to make their benefits last until March 1—after which nobody knew if the benefits would be renewed.
Despite the uncertainty about what is going to happen on February 15, Soublet and others are hoping that March benefits will be issued as normal.
“We have not heard anything related to March, but we are working on the premise that benefits will be issued on March 1,” she said.
Kate Wolffe is a reporter and weekend host at KQED.