Despite a murky timeline for seeing the federal government return to full capacity, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has offered assurances that those receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps, won’t go hungry, at least through February.

During the partial government shutdown, which has left funding for some 800,000 federal employees’ paychecks hanging, the USDA’s SNAP program has continued operations.

Perdue said in a briefing on Tuesday that mandatory funding authorized by the Farm Bill has allowed some of his agency’s programs, including SNAP, to continue unimpeded during the shutdown. He said his agency has a plan to find the $4.8 billion needed to fund SNAP through February.

Drawing on funds in the continuing resolution that expired on Dec. 21, the USDA is working with states to pause filings for SNAP benefits for February and will load recipients’ cards on or before Jan. 20.

By pulling funding from the continuing resolution, SNAP directors do not have to dip into their $3 billion emergency fund. If the shutdown continues into March, however, that $3 billion won’t cover all of that month’s benefits.

SNAP provides food for thousands of Shenandoah and Warren County residents every year. Assistance eligibility in both counties has been declining since 2012 with a small uptick in 2017 — the last year with complete figures available.

In 2017, there were 5,687 Shenandoah County residents and 6,294 Warren County residents eligible to receive SNAP benefits. Nearly half of Shenandoah County’s and Warren County’s 2017 SNAP recipients — 44 percent and 45 percent respectively — were children younger than 17, according to the state’s Social Services research office.

Available 2018 data shows that Shenandoah County had an average of 4,173 eligible recipients and Warren County had roughly 3,947 through August.

Perdue said the SNAP program has used similar methods in the past to ensure SNAP beneficiaries receive funding in cases of natural disasters, though it hasn’t been used by any other agency or in the case of previous government shutdowns.

The ultimate goal, Perdue said, is for Congress to send a spending bill to the president for him to sign that will reopen the government.

“I call on the House and the Senate to agree on appropriations legislation and send it to President Trump in a form he is able to sign,” Perdue said. “We have solved the problem what to do about SNAP benefits…I believe this is ample time for Congress to act and send the president an appropriations bill he is able to sign.”

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