February SNAP benefits already distributed locally

As of today, nearly 363,000 SNAP recipients throughout the Rio Grande Valley should have already received their February benefits as a result of the ongoing government shutdown.

Normally, the funds from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income residents purchase food, are released to beneficiaries on a staggered basis throughout the first half of each month.

But with lawmakers and the president at an impasse on spending, the U.S. Department of Agriculture instructed states last week to release the funds early in order to carry recipients throughout the month of February. Texas Health and Human Services, which administers the state’s federal funds, indicated the benefits would be automatically loaded into the Lone Star cards by today.

More commonly referred to as food stamps, the benefits are especially important to the Rio Grande Valley, where poverty rates are among the highest in the nation.

Efforts to curb food insecurity in the region include the creation of summer and after-school lunch programs, the installation of food pantries at local schools and universities, and a multitude of partnerships with nonprofits, such as the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley.

Earlier this month, Hidalgo County Community Service Agency announced a partnership with Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative. And according to the initiative’s Executive Director Jeremy Everett, SNAP payments in Hidalgo County have dropped over the past three years, leaving money on the table that could have helped residents purchase food for their families.

One of the main reasons for the drop is that people don’t know that there are programs available to assist them, Everett told commissioners court.

Each month, the federal government sends Texas about $410 million in benefits, which is then distributed to about 3.5 million Texans across the state.

In December, Hidalgo County received about $26.1 million, Cameron County received about $12.1 million, and Starr County received about $2.2 million. In Willacy County, the cost is significantly smaller, with only about $571,000 in benefits distributed last month.

Aside from helping recipients put food on the table, SNAP also helps the local economy because those funds are spent locally, Everett said.

“The program is responsible for one in 10 jobs in local grocery stores both in Hidalgo County and in the country,” he told commissioners.

It’s unclear when those funds will run out, according to a news release from HHS.

“Recipients are encouraged to space their food purchases out throughout the month of February, rather than making mass purchases,” the news release advised.

And even though funds for SNAP might run out if the shutdown continues, benefits for WIC and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families will be unaffected by the shutdown until further notice.

For more information about benefits, call 2-1-1, or visit yourtexasbenefits.com.