How government shutdown could impact food assistance for 600K-plus South Carolinians

Published: Sep. 29, 2023 at 10:57 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The looming federal government shutdown would have far-reaching impacts, ranging from delayed paychecks for federal workers to the closure of national parks.

If Congress does not reach a spending agreement before 12:01 a.m. Sunday and the federal government shuts down, the White House is warning there could also be consequences for the millions of Americans on food assistance programs.

But South Carolinians likely would not see those impacts unless a shutdown extended for weeks.

“We have folks in the state who need food, right, and need their benefits,” Department of Social Services Director Michael Leach said.

In South Carolina, more than 600,000 people rely on two key programs to stock their pantries and refrigerators each month: SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as the Food Stamps Program, and WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Those programs are overseen by two separate state agencies — DSS over SNAP and DHEC over WIC — and their funding sources from the federal government are different, so how they could be impacted during a shutdown is also different.

The White House warned money for WIC could run out in a matter of days in many states.

But DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer said that would not be the case in South Carolina.

“Their benefits should not be changed anytime in the near future,” he said. “Now if this runs months and months, that could change, but for now, I think we can reassure everyone that’s involved with the WIC program that their benefits will continue.”

Simmer said his agency’s staff has been preparing for a potential shutdown and should have enough money to carry them at least through October.

“If this runs two months, three months, I think we’ll obviously have to see what we can do at that point, whether there’s funds we can reprogram. We will certainly do everything we can to make sure that benefits to people in South Carolina are not interrupted,” he said.

More than 90,000 South Carolinians rely on WIC benefits, according to state data.

Many more — around 630,000 people in 300,000 households — are enrolled in SNAP, and the Department of Social Services reported households received an average of about $380 in payments last month.

Leach said recipients will be covered through the next month if the federal government shuts down.

“We’ve been assured there will be benefits through October,” he said.

Past that point, DSS is still working to figure out what will happen as well.

“We continue to have conversations with the USDA Food and Nutrition Services to understand what potentially could be affected after October and have been asking for some guidance around what that would look like,” Leach said.

Both agencies said if a shutdown were to extend past October and affect benefits, they would be in contact with beneficiaries and getting the word out to keep them informed.