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The state Department of Social and Health Services announced Tuesday that clients will receive their February food stamp benefits weeks earlier than usual because of the partial federal government shutdown.

The department is acting on instructions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to give out Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by Jan. 20 to limit the potential effects of any lapse in funding.

SNAP recipients usually get their monthly food stamp benefits anywhere from the first of the month to the 20th, according to the state department.

Early distribution of food stamps has caused some concern in the social service community that beneficiaries may not budget wisely and use up their assistance too soon, and could go hungry before receiving their next round of assistance.

About 21.6 percent of Cowlitz County households, roughly 22,000 people, receive SNAP benefits, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

John Gotshall, with St. Vincent de Paul food bank in Longview, said the organization hasn’t seen a noticeable jump in clients but added that he does anticipate that number to rise if the shutdown continues.

“We are well positioned to absorb an increase and continue to provide service as we have,” Gotshall said Tuesday.

In Washington, 75 percent of individuals receiving benefits don’t receive any other cash assistance, Babs Roberts, DSHS community services division director, announced in a press release. The department is urging clients who receive February benefits early to budget carefully.

“Some recipients — those who get their benefits on the 20th of each month, for example — will be going two months between SNAP disbursements,” Roberts said. “People will want to ensure that the benefits they are receiving now last as long as possible.”

If the shutdown does not end by March, it is unclear what effects it could have, but the department said there could be some disruption to programs and services.

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