Government shutdown triggers unprecedented early distribution of food stamps in Hawaii

The Hawaii Foodbank is running short on supplies at a time when need is high. (Image: Hawaii...
The Hawaii Foodbank is running short on supplies at a time when need is high. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Jan. 15, 2019 at 6:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Here’s another impact of the government shutdown: Tens of thousands of Hawaii residents will get their food stamp payments almost two weeks ahead of schedule.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for February are set to be issued Jan. 20.

It’s an unprecedented early payout that’s prompting the state to warn recipients to carefully budget their grocery purchases.

The central message: Once the payment is gone, it’s unclear how much will be disbursed in March if the shutdown hasn’t been resolved.

The uncertainty has the state’s largest food bank preparing for the worst.

Ron Mizutani, head of the Hawaii Foodbank, said he’s already started placing orders for extra supplies.

“Purchasing food on the mainland takes four to six weeks to get here,” he said. “So you see, we are in a dilemma. We have to order now. We can’t take that chance this government shutdown is going to end.”

Nearly 170,000 Hawaii residents receive food stamps. More than half come from working families.

At the same time, the food bank is fielding calls from unpaid federal workers who need assistance now — in addition to the 280,000 people the agency already serves every day.

“I really hope that we can encourage folks to donate I can’t stress that enough,” said Mizutani.

“About a million pounds every month goes out of our warehouse. You can see our shelves. They’re empty now. We need to get those ready for an influx that’s coming.”

The state told Hawaii News Now that if SNAP recipients spend their February benefits before the month is finished, it cannot issue additional benefits.

If there are any additional changes, the state Department of Human Services says it will contact recipients to let them know.

The Hawaii Foodbank is asking those who can to donate. For more information on how to give, click here.

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