Half-True
Delaware Health and Social Services
"March 2019 and on-going food benefits WILL NOT be available until further notice. Clients are encouraged to use their food benefits as soon as possible in case SNAP benefits are unavailable in March."

Delaware Health and Social Services on Monday, January 14th, 2019 in a flyer

Fate of March food stamps uncertain, but not ruled out, amid shutdown

In this Monday, March 27, 2017 photo Sunny Larson, left, and Zak McCutcheon pick produce while gathering provisions to take home at the Augusta Food Bank in Augusta, Maine. (AP)

A notice on Facebook warns that due to the federal government shutdown, food stamps will no longer be available for March.

"March 2019 and on-going food benefits WILL NOT be available until further notice. Clients are encouraged to use their food benefits as soon as possible in case SNAP benefits are unavailable in March," says the Jan. 14 post.

This post, which was shared 5,000 times within two days, was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

In this case, there is some truth to part of the statement, although the sentence that says food stamps "will not be available" in March is premature.

The post included phone numbers for the Food Bank of Delaware. That organization led us to find the same information on a flyer, which directs people to a website for Delaware’s Health and Social Services agency. A spokeswoman for the state agency pointed PolitiFact to a news release, which made no predictions about benefits in March.

"Our hope is to be back on the regular schedule beginning in March," it states.

The flyer correctly states that SNAP recipients will receive benefits for February in January, as announced by the federal government last week.

Advocates are concerned that recipients may not realize what is happening and spend their February benefits in January, and then run out of food.

What happens to food stamps in March?

The federal department hasn’t announced that benefits will be cut off in March if the shutdown continues.

While SNAP benefits are considered an entitlement, meaning that anyone who qualifies can receive benefits if he or she applies, the program is historically funded through the annual appropriations process, generally as part of the agriculture bill.

Dottie Rosenbaum, an expert on SNAP at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told PolitiFact she doesn’t think many states could cover the cost of food stamps in the event the federal government doesn’t fund the program.

"Even if they could, it's not clear how they would get the state appropriation to do so in the middle of the year, and it's not clear whether they would be able to be reimbursed after the fact," she said. "USDA hasn't indicated."

Elaine Waxman, an expert on food benefits at the Urban Institute, said it’s anybody’s guess what will happen. But she thinks it is likely that the federal government will have to find a solution because SNAP benefits are an important part of the food economy, providing benefits to people and making up a key share of retailer revenues.

Nationally, about 39 million individuals get SNAP benefits, an average of $123 a month. Generally speaking, the number of food stamp recipients has declined since 2013. In Delaware, more than 136,000 individuals get food stamps, most of them children, seniors and people with disabilities.

James P. Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky, said that if SNAP benefits are cut off, "we will enter largely uncharted territory since the inception of the modern Food Stamp Program in 1977."

Organizations including the Food Bank of Delaware are preparing for a potential influx of visitors in the spring.

Our ruling

A Facebook post said, "March 2019 and on-going food benefits WILL NOT be available until further notice. Clients are encouraged to use their food benefits as soon as possible in case SNAP benefits are unavailable in March."

The first part of that post is premature because it is unknown if SNAP benefits, more commonly referred to as food stamps, will be available in March. All we know is that during the federal government shutdown, food stamps have continued through February. What happens after that is anybody’s guess.

We rate this statement Half True.