Gone in a SNAP

  • The Department of Human Services South Hilo unit. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Just outside the Department of Human Service’s South Hilo unit, about a dozen people waited Wednesday morning.

Some sat in seats, others on the floor. Some filled out applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps, as others paced and waited for their numbers to be called.


A woman enters.

“You all waiting to go in here?” she asked the group. “The government. Try not to pay your taxes. See how fast they move.”

There are quiet chuckles from the crowd.

The future availability of SNAP benefits could be in jeopardy if a federal government shutdown, now in its third week, continues.

When funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, expired Dec. 21, SNAP benefits for January were already funded. The USDA announced earlier this week that funding would be available in February.

According to a news release, USDA will work with states to issue February benefits earlier than usual, relying on a provision of the last Continuing Resolution, which expired Dec. 21, that provides an appropriation for programs such as SNAP and child nutrition to incur costs of operation within 30 days of the resolution’s expiration.

States will have until Jan. 20 to request and implement the early funds. Once those are issued, the February benefits will be made available to SNAP participants.

The USDA release made no mention of funding beyond February should the shutdown continue.

One man, who did not give his name, said Wednesday outside the DHS South Hilo unit that he would be affected “pretty severely” if the program was not to be funded. The benefits are “pretty important. (It) helps me survive.”

Blue Nelson, 20, of Pahoa was applying for assistance of her own Wednesday.

She had heard rumors that SNAP benefits could be jeopardized by the shutdown, and while it’s not a big concern for her, “definitely it has been a concern for a lot of the community. I have heard a lot of anxiety about the situation.”

“SNAP provides an important benefit for individuals and families by giving them access to food and nutrition,” said Ke‘opu Reelitz, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, in an emailed statement. “Our federal partners recently issued information and guidance regarding February SNAP benefits during the government shutdown. The Hawaii Department of Human Services is working on putting this guidance into action to maintain benefits through February. We will provide clients with additional information about their February benefits in the coming days.

“In the meantime, we want to assure Hawaii residents that our priority is making sure clients receive their benefits uninterrupted and keep food on their tables throughout the shutdown. We encourage any clients with questions to contact their processing center.”

More than 40,000 people on the Big Island received SNAP benefits each month last year.

The number of SNAP recipients on the island increased last year after several years of decline, according to data provided by DHS.

In November, 42,269 people on Hawaii Island benefited from the program, about 21.13 percent of the island’s nearly 200,000 residents, compared to 37,964 during the same month in 2017.

Between $10.3 million and $10.6 million in SNAP funds were distributed on the Big Island each month through November in 2018, serving between 42,269 and 43,497 people monthly, according to the provided information.

Statewide, more than $428 million in benefits were distributed from January through November last year.

Reelitz said that as the year just ended, an analysis has yet to be done to determine the reasons behind any increases or decreases in participation numbers. There are, however, common factors to fluctuations, she said, such as the state of the economy, policy changes and natural disasters.


These are “some things we could say probably have an effect,” but factors officials can’t definitively say impact the numbers.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

  1. LOL in Kona January 12, 2019 6:36 am

    There are at least 1,200,000,000 people in the world hungry
    so YOU
    should pay so 40,000 other people Island can kick back, eat
    (buy drugs, loaf, etc)!
    (Queen) Pelosi, with her net worth of $60,000,000, in Calif says so!

    The Grasshoppers are determined to dance all day
    and YOU get to pay.

    1. antifaHI January 12, 2019 6:44 am

      So, dear USA, give up Hawaii as being not profitable. Shoot, we need the islands to dominate the Pacific with our military. Which costs quite a lot more than giving a few handouts to some locals having tailgate parties on the beach.

    2. J_Maritime January 12, 2019 9:33 am

      Worried about where you tax dollars go….? According to a 2012 Cato study the U.S. government spends $100 billion on corporate welfare annually. The problem isn’t trying to help some people in need getting food on the table. Some day it could be you or I at that office.

      1. Buds4All January 12, 2019 1:48 pm

        And you forgot, to pay for under the table settlements of those boob grabbing congressmen and senators!

  2. Uncle Kokomo January 12, 2019 9:18 am

    One third of the island receives SNAP benefits? That’s insane.

    1. LimeyinHi January 12, 2019 9:25 am

      One fifth.

      1. Uncle Kokomo January 12, 2019 9:30 am

        How many of the 200k are children that can’t claim though. Probably closer to 1/3 of adults are claiming

  3. 4whatitsworth January 12, 2019 10:27 am

    Want to reduce SNAP benefits and encourage a health society? Easy just start drug testing for SNAP/EBT.

  4. Buds4All January 12, 2019 1:46 pm

    First SNAP is Food Stamps. Second there is a difference between Taxes and Food Stamps. Taxes are a law required and Food Stamps are not a guaranteed source of where people get their food. It was never intended to sustain people forever. Lastly the people with government positions now get to feel the pain we in the private sector get to feel with layoffs. When we are getting laid off due to economic downturns they are guaranteed a job. So sorry every job in life has its pitfalls.

    1. numbah10 January 12, 2019 7:10 pm

      “Food Stamps are not a guaranteed source of where people get their food. It was never intended to sustain people forever”
      You must have missed out on how several generations in Chicongo, NYC, Detroit and similar have cashed in multi-generationally now. no need to work, the “Great Society” has taken care of in in perpetuity.

  5. Big ideas January 12, 2019 4:55 pm

    “The government. Try not to pay your taxes. See how fast they move.”

    Food stamp recipients pays taxrs??? DOUBT IT!


  6. paul January 13, 2019 5:06 pm

    wow,40,000 people on big island get welfare……something is not right…….

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