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Officials caution SNAP users to budget February benefits wisely

Woodstock Food Pantry volunteer, David Gaines gives a tour Friday of the pantry at 1033 Lake Avenue, Woodstock.
Woodstock Food Pantry volunteer, David Gaines gives a tour Friday of the pantry at 1033 Lake Avenue, Woodstock.

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history continues, state officials have cautioned food stamp, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, recipients to budget wisely.

SNAP is a federal program that distributes money through electronic cards that can be used to buy food at most grocery stores.  As of July, 8,460 households in McHenry County reported receiving SNAP benefits, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services. Those households should receive their February monthly allotment, which averaged $125 a person in 2016, no later than Sunday – two weeks earlier than usual, IDHS Secretary James Dimas said. There’s no funding solution in sight for the program if the impasse continues into March.

“It’s going to be very important that people understand these benefits are early, not extra,” Dimas said. “These benefits have to last them through the end of February, and I think we all can appreciate that Illinois is no place to be hungry in February, so people need to make that last.”

To help ease food insecurities set forth by the government shutdown, local food pantries are preparing for an uptick in customers.

“This is an anomaly for us having the shutdown, and we’re trying to reach out to those who may be affected and may have never considered the food pantry as an alternative,” Crystal Lake Food Pantry President Bill Eich said.

Already, Eich and Woodstock Food Pantry volunteer David Gaines have seen more people coming through their food pantry doors since the shutdown began Dec. 21.

Gaines encouraged people in need to “put their pride aside” and consider the food pantry as a way to make ends meet.

“If you don’t have the income coming in to support yourself, where else do you have to go?” Gaines said.

Aside from donations, federal grants through the Emergency Food Assistance Program help buy groceries for food pantries to distribute. States have received no additional administrative funds since the lapse, and none can be made available until the lapse ends, according to the USDA.

To help offset the loss, residents can donate food, supplies and money to their local food banks, Eich said.

“[For] every dollar that’s donated, we can buy $8 worth of food at the [Northern Illinois] Food Bank,” he said.

​Addresses and contact information for food pantries in the McHenry County area are available at www.mchenrycountyil.gov.

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