The government shutdown is forcing millions of Americans to stretch their monthly food benefits to the limit

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Food StampsFlickr / Paul Sableman

  • People who receive money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) already got their benefits for February, a few days ahead of schedule.
  • Due to the government shutdown, SNAP - formerly known as food stamps - issued its last payments to recipients and they must last until at least March.
  • That means recipients will use their benefits without knowing when their next payment will come, making the funds difficult to manage.

Beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, received their February funds ahead of schedule thanks to the government shutdown.

But some 40 million Americans who depend on those payments to buy groceries might have to make the latest funds last. Because of the shutdown, the US Department of Agriculture's funding for SNAP ended this past weekend and officials from the USDA could not commit to procuring the necessary funds to keep the program going into March.

Sabrina Rubich, a mother in Montana, told NPR that she at first couldn't believe it when she found out that the monthly $158 she receives in benefits for her, her wife and her two children might have to last them until the end of February.

"I am losing sleep over this, man," Rubich said.

"If the shutdown continues, we all have questions about what will happen in March and potential months beyond that," Jamie Palagi, the administrator of the human and community services division of Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, told NPR.

The early allocation of funds means recipients will have to carefully budget the money in order for it to last until March, and possibly longer. In Texas, an approximate 3.5 million residents receive SNAP, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Food assistance organizations are urging Texans to carefully budget their funds.

"Definitely budget to try to stretch those dollars as long as possible, but to also tap into the existing network of food resources that we provide in the community to make sure they're balancing out those resources," Emily De Maria, chief program officer at the Central Texas Food Bank told Everything Lubbock.

Read more: Here's what happens to food stamps and other federal food programs during the government shutdown

Sherry Tomasky, public affairs director at Hunger Solutions New York, said though SNAP recipients won't be receiving less money, receiving it earlier in the month means that they may go through it faster than usual, driving them to food banks mid-month instead of at the end of it. Agencies across New York, she said, are trying to make sure SNAP beneficiaries are made aware that they have to carefully budget their SNAP money this month.

People looking to help, Tomasky said, should make sure they reach out to their local food banks to assist with food drives or make donations.

"It's our friends and neighbors that use SNAP and we don't even know, there is no typical profile of a SNAP client and lots of people that we know may use snap without our knowledge," she told INSIDER. "People should do is call their local food bank and ask how they can help. They may be able to make a financial donation to a food bank which allows the food bank to buy much more product in bulk than we could ever donated."

The Idaho Food Bank posted a notice on its website saying "it's important to note that the SNAP program provides 12-18 times the amount of food The Idaho Foodbank distributes. We simply do not have the capacity to match the level of food this program provides."

In New York, where nearly 2.8 million people depend on SNAP, food banks are doing their best to keep up with the increased demand brought forward by the shutdown.

"We're seeing a lot of people come through the doors, there have been a lot of people showing up in their TSA uniforms, coming straight from work, who haven't gotten a paycheck for two cycles who are there to get food for themselves and their families," Mikola De Roo, vice president for public affairs at the Food Bank for New York City, told INSIDER.

The shutdown hasn't only affected SNAP. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for seniors and the federal program that distributes food assistance to Native American reservations, which combined serve around 8 million Americans, have also stopped receiving federal money.

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