Government shutdown hits Colorado SNAP families

February benefit to release early; 2,400 El Paso County recipients face Tuesday deadline

More than 200,000 of Colorado’s most-vulnerable families could see changes to their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in the coming weeks, due to the partial shutdown of the federal government.

The Colorado Department of Human Services announced Saturday that February’s SNAP benefits will be released by Jan. 20. And according to El Paso County records, thousands of local beneficiaries are at risk of missing those funds.

That’s because the change also bumps the deadline to Tuesday for SNAP recipients whose eligibility is due for recertification this month. That required paperwork must be processed no later than noon on Tuesday, Jan. 15, in order to make the earlier distribution date for February, according to the press release. (Read the release here)

El Paso County records show more than 2,400 SNAP recipients had files that were not complete as of 9 a.m. Friday. They must submit documents in order to get their February support by the early release date.  

The county food-assistance program “enables families to supplement their food bill and buy nutritious food with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card (formerly call the QWEST card),” according to the EL Paso County Department of Human Services website. To qualify, a family must earn no more than 130 percent of the Federal income poverty level — currently $2,720 per month ($32,640 per year) for a family of four.

“We need folks to understand how important it is to act quickly so they won’t see a disruption in their benefits,” Ki’i Powell, the director of the state’s Office of Economic Security, said in a statement. The office is a division of the Colorado Department of Human Services.  

The early release of benefits is not additional dollars, but a way to get February support to recipients before the government shutdown causes the program to lapse. Colorado families receive about $55 million in SNAP support each month, and if the record-setting closure doesn’t resolve, dollars may not be available past February.  

The shutdown, which started Dec. 22 and has reached a stalemate over funding for a wall on the southern U.S. border, became the longest in U.S. history Saturday. That same day, as the state department announced the change to the February benefit, it also encouraged furloughed federal employees to apply for SNAP benefits.

The El Paso County Department of Human Services, 1675 Garden of the Gods Road, is hosting extended hours to help beneficiaries complete the paperwork to qualify. Services will be limited and interviews will not be completed, but EBT cards will be issued. Hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today (Sunday, Jan. 13) and 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday

Application and reapplication paperwork may be submitted at Colorado.gov/PEAK, by fax at (719) 444-5139 or (719) 444-8353 or dropped off at El Paso County Department of Human Services locations. A generic RRR form may be found at elpasoco.com/wp-content/uploads/DHS/Generic-RRR-1.11.19.pdf.

Curbside drop-off will be available in the traffic circle at the Citizens Service Center on Garden of the Gods.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture pays for both SNAP and WIC (Women, Infants, Children) benefits by passing the dollars through to the states and counties. When USDA funding expired Dec. 21, the January benefits were already accounted for.

The federal department is relying on a stop-gap measure to fund February benefits – estimated at $4.8 billion nationwide for SNAP and some $600 million for WIC.

regan.foster@southeastexpress.org

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