BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Food stamp benefits are safe for now but money will soon run out if the government shutdown continues.
About 70,000 Vermonters take advantage of 3SquaresVT benefits -- 80 percent are children, older Vermonters and those with disabilities.
"The real national emergency, that we're facing right now is a national emergency of hunger," said Anore Horton with Hunger Free Vermont.
The nonprofit provides outreach and information about food insecurity programs. Horton says benefits from 3SquaresVT will not be affected for February, but the Department for Children and Families will issue them earlier than usual -- on January 21st.
"It is going to be a bit of a challenge to stretch those benefits and budget for the whole month of February," Horton said.
In Vermont, the average household of four receives $369 a month, but if you are in the process of applying for, or re-certifying your benefits, Horton says It is critical that recipients do so immediately. She paperwork, documentation and complete interviews must be submitted by Tuesday, January 15th, in order to receive February benefits.
But if the government shutdown continues, benefits for the month of March are not guaranteed.
Once we get into March and we're not looking any further out than that, many other programs are going to be affected" Horton said.
That includes child nutrition programs like free and reduced school breakfast and lunch and meals from child care programs including daycares.
"If the shutdown continues, maybe we have more people coming, and that would be a big concern," said Edi Abeneto with the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf in Burlington. Abento helps people sign up for food assistance programs.
No food stamp recipients wanted to go on camera, but Abeneto says few seem concerned about the shutdown impacting their benefits. "For the moment, we didn't have, or we didn't hear anything about that. I think that's in the future if they realize that's going to be a big issue," Abeneto said. And the food shelf hopes the shutdown will end soon and will plan for the worst if it continues. "We have to just be aware of that and talk to our donors about our situation."
In the meantime, the state is working to get those February benefits out to families in the next week and-a-half.
If someone needs to complete an interview for their 3SquaresVT application or recertification, they should call the interview line at 1-877-403-7668.
If someone is not sure whether they need to take action, they should call the Benefits Service Center at 1-800-479-6151.