Federally funded food assistance programs in Douglas County will continue through February in spite of the ongoing partial government shutdown, according to local officials.

Funds in state coffers are sufficient to keep programs such as Women, Infants, and Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program running short term.

Additionally, Oregon residents received February SNAP benefits Friday, two weeks earlier than usual, per instructions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday.

Local program officials said they’ve been reassuring participants they can continue using services. They’re hopeful lawmakers and the White House will end the shutdown, which is well into it’s fourth week.

WIC officials across Oregon received an update from the state late Friday that their clinics can remain open, said Judy Cheek, WIC program coordinator with United Community Action Network. The program provides supplemental food and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children at nutritional risk.

“For now, we’re doing okay,” Cheek said. “WIC participants should use their e-WIC cards to continue to purchase healthy foods for their families and not miss any scheduled appointments.” She added the program can still register new applicants.

As of December, there were 3,046 WIC participants in Douglas County, according to Cheek. That number includes 591 women, 577 infants and 1,878 children.

“Our families truly count on the WIC foods that we provide and the nutrition education,” Cheek said. “I would hate to see a disruption in those benefits for those families.”

The only part of the program that won’t continue as usual is its updated food list, which tells participants what foods are available at grocery stores and other partner businesses, according to Cheek.

“They’re delaying the new food list because they don’t want to implement those changes that might increase our operating costs,” she said.

Funding still exists for vital program services because the state didn’t spend everything for last year’s budget, said Susan Woodbury, Oregon state WIC director.

She said that fewer people than expected are using the program because the economy has improved.

“Less people qualify and are using it so we’ve seen our numbers of people served decrease and naturally our costs have gone down,” Woodbury said.

As WIC officials continue to monitor funds, the USDA has asked states to issue February’s food stamp benefits early to support people affected by the shutdown.

Over 25,000 Douglas County SNAP recipients will see their benefits before Jan. 20.

“We want to be clear that these are not additional funds that SNAP recipients are receiving, but an early issuance of February benefits,” said Kim Fredlund, self-sufficiency director with the Department of Human Services, in a press release.

The department is also asking recipients to carefully budget their food benefits through February, because funds will run out if the government shutdown continues.

Max Egener can be reached at megener@nrtoday.com and 541-957-4217. Or follow him on Twitter @maxegener.

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City Reporter

Max Egener is the city reporter for The News-Review. He has a master's degree from the University of Oregon, and is an avid skier and backpacker.

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