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SNAP benefits in Pa. could run out after October if federal government shuts down

 Sealed oranges, apples and grapes sit on a table.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

It appears increasingly likely the federal government will shut down early Sunday morning. If the Congressional impasse is prolonged, nearly 2 million low-income Pennsylvanians may not have the financial support they rely on to buy groceries.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is funded by the federal government and administered at the state level by Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services. The department reports that Pennsylvania’s total SNAP distribution from the federal government for August 2023 was more than $338 million — nearly $29 million went to Allegheny County residents.

The people enrolled in SNAP receive debit cards that they use to purchase food and the amount that is transferred to a card each month depends on a person’s household size. As WESA has previously reported, SNAP enrollment in Pennsylvania is at a record high — nearly 1 in 3 beneficiaries in the state are children.

DHS said that federal dollars for SNAP will be there for Pennsylvanians through October, but probably not beyond that unless Congress takes action. The department is considering what steps it might take to mitigate the loss of SNAP funding. DHS Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh warned it will be difficult to come up with the money in a relatively short amount of time if a shutdown does occur.

“I’m just very much hoping it doesn’t come to that,” said Arkoosh, during a visit to the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh to learn about the SNAP 50/50 program. SNAP 50/50 is a free vocational training program at several sites across the state, including at the trade institute where students learn masonry and carpentry. Half the tuition cost is covered by the institute and the other half by SNAP. To participate, a person must be enrolled in SNAP – students also receive assistance with housing, transportation and childcare.

“It doesn’t feel good knowing that there could be a possible government shutdown,” said the trade institute’s executive director Donta Green. He said he had faith the program’s needs will somehow be met.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.