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Food Assistance Payments Came Early But Have To Last Until March

Sabrina Rubich shows her SNAP balance.
Nick Mott/Montana Public Radio
Sabrina Rubich shows her SNAP balance.

Sabrina Rubich shopped for milk, bananas and other basics this week at an Albertson's grocery store in Missoula, Mont., with her nine-month-old son, Kenny. When she got to the checkstand she paid for some of her groceries with money from the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP—which is issuing its February payments early.

Rubich is one of about 39 million people who are now spending their SNAP payments not knowing when the next one will come due to the federal government shutdown.

When she first heard SNAP benefits were coming two weeks early and would have to last until at least the end of next month, Rubich thought, "no they can't be doing that."

Then she got a text about it.

"And sure enough, checked my balance on the app and was like, 'Oh my god. This is real.'"

Sabrina Rubich and her 9-month-old son, Kenny, shop for milk and bananas using their newly issued SNAP benefits.
/ Nick Mott/Montana Public Radio
Nick Mott/Montana Public Radio
Sabrina Rubich and her 9-month-old son, Kenny, shop for milk and bananas using their newly issued SNAP benefits.

Rubich works full-time at an AT&T call center, and her wife stays at home with their two children. SNAP benefits vary based on income; Rubich and her family get $158 a month. She says it's helping them afford groceries while they climb out of debt.

Rubich is making extra food bank trips to hold off as much as possible on spending the money that just dropped, until the beginning of February—especially because she doesn't know if the money for March will come in time.

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

The Department of Agriculture funding for SNAP expires this weekend.

Lorianne Burhop, chief policy officer at Montana Food Bank Network, says her biggest concern right now is making sure recipients understand their benefits are early, and not extra.

Many families depend entirely on SNAP for their food. And even in a normal month, Burhop says the money doesn't always last long.

"A lot of people end up skipping meals, going without in those last couple weeks of the month," Burhop says.

So Montana food banks are doing more to fill some gaps, and the state is calling SNAP recipients and sending out fliers to make sure people know the payment they just got has to last until March.

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

Palagi says the USDA advised the state to keep taking applications for SNAP. If the government re-opens soon enough, the next payment would be issued the first week of March.

Copyright 2024 Montana Public Radio

Nick Mott is an reporter who also works on the Threshold podcast.
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