Shutdown may jeopardize tax refunds, food stamps: report

The two-week-old partial government shutdown could significantly reduce food stamps for nearly 40 million Americans and freeze or delay more than $140 billion in tax refunds if it extends into February, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Several senior administration officials told the Post that the White House did not anticipate the shutdown could last that long and only recently recognized its widespread impact.

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Approximately 25 percent of the government shut down on Dec. 22, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture (USDA), Treasury, Commerce, Justice, Interior and State. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have either been furloughed or forced to work without pay. President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' MORE said Friday the shutdown could last “months or even years.”

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.

Besides impacting finances of families across the country, the economy could also take a hit as households will have less money to spend.

“The IRS will finalize and release its filing season lapse plan in the coming days,” a Treasury Department official told The Hill. 

April 15 would be the normal deadline for tax returns on income earned in 2018.

The partial government shutdown is in its 14th day as the White House and Capitol Hill have yet to come to an agreement on a spending bill, with funding for a border wall emerging as the focal point of negotiations.

Trump said Friday he is demanding $5.6 billion as part of any legislation to end the shutdown, but House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' Mattis responds to Trump criticism: 'I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals' MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' Mattis responds to Trump criticism: 'I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals' Democrats vow to push for repeal of other Trump rules after loss on power plant rollback MORE (D-N.Y.) have both said they would not agree to allocate any additional funds for the wall.

Congressional leaders huddled with the president at the White House Friday for the second time this week in a meeting Pelosi called “contentious” and Trump called “productive.”