Food stamp recipients in Georgia have had to budget their benefits in unique ways since the beginning of the year as a result of the 35-day federal government shutdown between Dec. 22, 2018, and Jan. 25, 2019.
“When this happened, it kind of threw everything out of whack,” said Samantha Lopez, a Gainesville resident and mother of three children. “It’s actually been very difficult. The fridge is nearly empty.”
For example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program distribution Lopez received in January also included her February allotment. She typically receives benefits each month (roughly every 30 days).
In an effort to help those whose food might not have lasted the two months, the state will “divide benefits into two distributions for recipients of ongoing benefits” in March, according to a recent announcement by the Division of Family and Children Services.
About 1.6 million Georgians receive SNAP assistance for food purchases, and benefits are usually distributed once in a 19-day period between the fifth and 23rd of each month.
According to DFCS, food stamp recipients can access half of their March benefits via their electronic benefits transfer cards the first week of March.
But they’ll have to wait until their regularly scheduled issuance date for the remainder (March 17 for Lopez and her family).
“What this means is that clients who received their last issuance on Jan. 23 will receive their first March issuance within 37 days, on March 2,” DFCS officials said in a press release. “Clients who received their last issuance on Jan. 14 will receive their first March issuance within 46 days, also on March 2. Issuing the remaining March benefits on the staggered schedule will allow distributions in April and future months to remain on the normal issuance cycle.”
The changes in the distribution cycle have made Lopez realize just how hard it sometimes is to be a low-income family.
Lopez said she and her partner typically supplement their food stamp benefits with resources from local food pantries, but there are limits on how often they can access pantries each month.
The result has been that Lopez has had to come out of pocket for some food purchases, which means other basic needs and bills get deferred.
“I have to figure out which one I have to pull from,” she said.
Right now, for example, the laundry is piling up because Lopez said she can’t afford the cost at a public laundromat.
Additionally, it’s “making it harder for my rent to get paid,” Lopez said.
And if she comes up short on the rent payment, a late fee can be added.
Lopez works full time as a pizza delivery driver, but she said she’s having to pick up extra shifts to make ends meet until the food stamp benefits resume the normal distribution cycle in April.
She’s also working extras to manage child care costs.
“It’s nearly impossible to get CAPS,” Lopez said, referring to public assistance available for child care.
Lopez said she applied six months ago but, “I just got denied.”
Food stamp benefit distributions for March
The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services will post ongoing updates about how benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will be distributed in two installments in March on its website, https://dfcs.georgia.gov/.