REGION – The partial federal government shutdown is putting thousands of Vermonters at risk of hunger, and some who receive 3SquaresVT – known nationally as SNAP – need to take immediate action in order to receive their food benefits for February. With the end of the shutdown still uncertain, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one of the federal agencies impacted by the shutdown, has announced its plan to temporarily fund SNAP by issuing February benefits early. States have until Jan. 20 to request and implement an early issuance of SNAP benefits for February.
Vermont’s Department for Children and Families is already working with the USDA to ensure that Vermonters who participate in 3SquaresVT are able to receive their February benefits. Because these benefits will be issued early, toward the end of January, people who have recently applied, and current 3SquaresVT participants who are in the process of recertifying or have an interim report due soon, need to take immediate action to make sure they get their February benefits. DCF needs to complete all interviews and receive any required documentation from 3SquaresVT applicants and participants on or before Tuesday, Jan. 15.
If someone needs to complete an interview for their 3SquaresVT application or recertification, they should call the interview line at 1-877-403-7668 right away. If they are currently in the application or recertification process, if they need to complete an interim report, or if they recently received a notice from DCF requesting documentation – pay stubs or proof of income, proof of medical expenses, etc. – they must send their documents in immediately to continue their benefits.
If someone is not sure whether they need to take action, they should call the Benefits Service Center at 1-800-479-6151 to speak to a benefits specialist who can help. Callers should expect a long wait time at both the Benefits Service Center and the interview line, but please stay on the line and do not give up! It is important that 3SquaresVT participants and applicants get the information they need before the deadline.
The benefits issued in the end of January will be the only benefits issued for February, so participants will need to budget accordingly. 3SquaresVT benefits are often the only money participants have to pay for food each month. Many participants run out of their benefits in the last two weeks of the month and turn to food shelves, which may now experience additional pressure in February if Vermonters run out of 3SquaresVT benefits earlier than usual.
Right now, DCF is focused on ensuring that Vermonters receive their February benefits. However, if the shutdown continues, the federal government will not have enough funds to issue SNAP benefits in March and beyond. DCF and the legislature have begun investigating what the state government could do to support 3SquaresVT participants should the federal shutdown continue into March.
The government shutdown is already having an impact on food security in Vermont and across the country. Reports of emergency food shelves opening to serve federal employees are emerging as workers anticipate going without a paycheck this week. “The current plight of federal workers and contractors reveals the truth about food insecurity – that almost any family in Vermont is just one unexpected event away from finding themselves in the incredibly stressful situation of being forced to choose between paying for heat and paying for food during the coldest months of the year,” states Anore Horton, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont. “This shutdown is hurting families and putting millions of people’s health and well-being at risk. That is unacceptable and it is time to end it.”
The government shutdown and issuance of 3SquaresVT benefits is an ongoing situation, and there will likely be more updates to share in the coming days. Please contact Hunger Free Vermont or visit www.hungerfreevt.org/government-shutdown for the most up to date information.