Shutdown endangers tax refunds and food stamps if stalemate continues

With 25% of the government shut down, there are bound to be some consequences.  The Treasury Department and Department of Agriculture have furloughed their employees or are forcing some workers to work without pay.  This means that two important programs to millions of Americans – food stamps and tax refunds – may be delayed if the shutdown moves into February.

The Hill:

The cutting off of funds to the USDA and Treasury Department could hamper their abilities to give food stamps to those in need or supply tax refunds.

The White House, USDA and Treasury did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Hill.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) requires annual funding from Congress, though its existence is automatically renewed.  Funding for SNAP has not been extended beyond January and past disbursements reviewed by the Post would not cover all of February.  The program distributed $4.7 billion in benefits nationwide in September, the most recent month for which data is available.

"We are currently looking at options for SNAP," Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department, told the Post. "The best course of action would be for Congress to pass a legitimate appropriations bill to the president to end the lapse in funding."

The USDA office that oversees SNAP sent home 95 percent of its employees without pay during the shutdown. SNAP's faltering would not only hurt those in need but also retailers where the food stamps are spent.

The Treasury Department, on its end, is heading into one of its busiest times of the year, as the IRS sent home nearly 90 percent of its staffers, according to the Post.

The IRS paid out $147.6 billion in tax refunds to 48.5 million households in the early months of 2018, according to the Post.  It said last year that it would not issue any tax refunds during a shutdown and a senior administration official told the Post that the payments would be significantly impacted if they are paid at all.

If this were a Democrat in office, we might suspect a little gamesmanship on the part of the agencies in order to make ordinary people feel their pain.  President Obama was known for this – closing the national parks, for instance, when Trump is showing they can remain open.

But the shutdown's impact on the food stamp program cannot be overstated.  It's a matter of cash; no cash, no EBT.  You can't cannibalize other programs because they don't have any money, either.

As for tax refunds, the IRS could choose to prioritize them, but how do you pick and choose which taxpayer gets his refund and who doesn't?

It's hard to guess where the tipping point will be for one side or the other so that a deal will eventually get done.