Families who rely on federal food assistance are used to budgeting carefully to stretch their limited resources every month. The majority of Louisiana food stamp recipients live in a household with a minor child, and two-thirds of the state’s recipients are children themselves, elderly, or disabled. Most of the remaining recipients who can work, do work. But even with earned income coming in, many food stamp families face hard choices every month about whether to keep the lights on or pay the rent, repair the car that gets them to work, or to pay the cell phone bill. That’s why food stamps, which reach 1 in 5 Louisianans, are so important to low-income families.
But the government shutdown is forcing a larger crunch than usual: February benefits are coming early—on or before Jan. 20—for most Louisiana recipients, which will leave a sizable gap before March benefits are issued. That’s assuming the government re-opens in time for those benefits to be issued at all. The Advocate’s Elizabeth Crisp explains how food assistance families are being urged to budget their benefits to last at least until March:
Louisiana residents who rely on food stamps will get their February benefits early under a deal the federal government hashed out to fund the program despite the federal government shutdown. But state officials are warning families that the benefits they receive in the coming days are not bonuses and will need to be budgeted to stretch at least until March. “That is not an additional benefit,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday. “That benefit you get is going to have to carry you all the way through the month of February.” The state Department of Children and Family Services, which oversees the federally-funded food stamp program in Louisiana, launched a portal this week to answer questions about the shutdown’s impact on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps.
The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which administers SNAP in Louisiana has issued the following guidance to individuals:
New applicants and current clients who are in the process of renewing their benefits are encouraged to not miss application or redetermination interviews and to turn in all requested documents as soon as possible. Current clients who have already been determined eligible for February do not need to take any action to receive their benefits.
SNAP clients and outreach workers can find the most up-to-date information about benefits issuance in the state on the DCFS SNAP information portal: http://www.dcfs.la.gov/snap2019faqs.
Feeling the pinch
Nearly 6,000 federal workers in Louisiana have been directly affected by the government shutdown – either by being furloughed or forced back to work without pay. One of them is Kip J. Hanks of New Orleans, an investigator for the Food and Drug Administration who also served in the National Guard. He vented his frustrations in a letter to Nola.com/The Times-Picayune:
I was initially furloughed without pay without the expectation to work. Effective this week, I’ve been “recalled to excepted status,” which is government-ese for having to work for an IOU. To help make ends meet, I began driving for shared ride services. A 20-plus year federal employee who essentially must work a part-time job just to pay the mortgage. Now that I’m “excepted,” I won’t be able to drive as many hours for the shared ride services. I’ve had to swallow my pride and inform creditors that I might not be able to pay them for the foreseeable future.
Federal jobs are good jobs
The negative consequences of the ongoing shutdown are poised to expand, affecting people served by the government’s vital anti-poverty programs, big businesses and craft-breweries alike. One population who feels the shutdown’s effects acutely are government workers. As Natalie Kitroeff and Robert Gebeloff of the New York Times report, for these workers, many of whom are women and people of color, government employment not only offers the satisfactions of civil service but also a rare opportunity for stability and good benefits in an economy where both are increasingly scarce:
As globalization has shuttered factories and decimated entire industries, federal employment has been a bastion of stability. It has not grown, and occupies a shrinking share of the overall labor market, but it remains an equalizer for African-Americans and women, who are far more likely to earn high salaries working for the government than they would with a company. … When Verla Bloomfield, 55, started at the Social Security office in Tulsa in 2005, she made $40,000. Then, over the next decade or so, she climbed four levels in the ranks of the federal work force. … In 2017, Ms. Bloomfield got a promotion that put her salary at $78,000 a year, a comfortable sum in Tulsa. … Ms. Bloomfield would take stability over a six-figure salary in the private sector any day. Her brother earns much more than she does in technical support in Austin, Tex. But he’s had to switch employers multiple times in the last 20 years because of corporate restructuring and layoffs.
To honor King, fight for economic justice
Dr. Martin Luther King is remembered most for his role in the Civil Rights movement, and breaking down the longstanding legal barriers that prevented African-Americans from reaching their full potential. But King was also a champion of economic justice, and recognized the role of income supports and other programs to lift up historically disenfranchised groups. Robert Greenstein, of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says those lessons are still relevant:
As King predicted, the struggle for economic justice has proven difficult. “[I]t’s much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good solid job,” he declared in an April 1967 speech at Stanford University on economic justice. “It’s much easier to guarantee the right to vote than it is to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine, quality, integrated education a reality. And so today we are struggling for something which says we demand genuine equality.” … Moreover, while yawning racial disparities in both income and wealth are widely recognized, some recent policies have made these disparities still worse. As one example, white families are three times likelier to be among the nation’s top 1 percent of earners, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and Prosperity Now found in a joint report, but the 2017 tax law showered 23.7 percent of its total tax cuts on this small group of wealthy white families in 2018 while providing just 13.8 percent of its tax cuts to the bottom 60 percent of households of all races.
Number of the Day
24,000 – Minimum number of air traffic controllers who have been working without pay for the 26 days the government has been shut down. (Source: Route Fifty)