Pa. leaders plead to end federal shutdown and work to buoy SNAP benefits

Justin Udo
January 14, 2019 - 4:57 pm
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., applauded the commonwealth's decision to give food assistance recipients their February benefits in January.

Justin Udo/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — As the partial government shutdown continues in its third week, with no end in sight, officials in Pennsylvania are making sure the state's 1.8 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients will continue to get their benefits through February.

They're doing this by giving out early payments on Jan. 18 and 19.

Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym did not mince words Monday when she joined fellow lawmakers at nonprofit food distributor Philabundance in a call to fully reopen the federal government.

RELATED: Millions could lose food assistance if shutdown drags on

She says the shutdown, which is threatening the funding of food-assistance programs, is having an extremely negative effect on some of the city's most vulnerable residents.

"One of the greatest dangers that half a million Philadelphians face right now, and millions of Pennsylvania children, is an administration that would threaten their very livelihood, that would put their children at risk, simply for a perverse fantasy and the mercurial whims of a president who governs by chaos, incompetence and cruelty," Gym said.

During the call to action, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., applauded the commonwealth's decision to give food assistance recipients their February benefits in January.

However, he says, more needs to be done.

"That's good for them, and we should make sure there is certainty for that," Casey said. "Not just certainty for the month of February, but make sure it's there for as long as they need it."

Casey said he wishes the move wasn't necessary. 

"They shouldn't have to have that sense of urgency. The programs should work as it always does," he said. "It's hard enough to be struggling with food insecurity. It's doubly as hard when you don't know if next month if it will be there for you."

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., shares Casey's sentiment.

"That should be the approach," he said. "We shouldn't be using the federal government to make people's lives more difficult, so at least in that respect there's been some mitigation."

Officials say hopefully the government will reopen soon, so they will not have to worry about what to do about food benefits when March comes. The senators differ when it comes to how to get the government back open.

Casey says it's easy.

"The president today can do something real simple: Make one phone call and get out one pen. Make the phone call to Mitch McConnell say, 'Mitch, pass that bill that's sitting there that the House passed,' and then the president can use that pen to sign it."

Toomey says Democrats need to do their part at the bargaining table.

"Unfortunately, (Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi has decided that now all of a sudden the only acceptable dollar amount to be spent on border security is zero, there can be none."