The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits commonly referred to as food stamps for the month of February early.  It’s not additional benefits, but an early release because of the federal government shutdown.

According to the USDA, a provision in the congressional spending plan that expired in late December leaves funding in place for program’s such as food stamps for an additional 30 days.

Food stamp recipients in Missouri will receive their early benefits by Sunday.  But Missouri Department of Social Services Director Steve Corsi has warned recipients not to use those benefits before February because they won’t be issued again in that month.

Because of the situation caused by the shutdown, some charities across Missouri are stepping in to help. Among them is the Council of Churches of the Ozarks Crosslines food pantry in Springfield.

Crossline’s Tom Faulkner notes that it’s not known what will happen with food stamp distribution in March.  “These families are already in need, and now they’ve been asked by the federal government to make those dollars stretch,” Faulkner added. “We don’t know if they’re going to be able to do that.”

As a result, Crosslines is changing the way it hands out food. Typically, it invites families to load up on food once every other month, but will now allow them to do so twice a month until the Government reopens.

Faulkner says this change might put a strain on Crossline’s operation, but he has faith the community will support the organization’s efforts.  “We’re going to double that amount, which concerns us because that’s not anything that’s been budgeted for,” Faulker said. “But we feel this is the right thing to do for those families that are coming in.”

In December, Missouri’s food stamp program served 703,365 individuals.  The average benefit was $256.81 per household or $119.66 per person.  Missouri receives roughly $84.2 million in Food Stamp benefits from the federal government on a monthly basis.

A division of the state Department of Social Services processes food stamp applications but is not guaranteeing that eligible applicants will receive the benefits while the partial federal shutdown is in effect.

(Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV contributed to this report)