WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration said on Tuesday it is exploring ways to keep providing food assistance to America’s poor if a partial government shutdown continues much longer, and urged lawmakers to end the uncertainty with a budget deal stalled by President Donald Trump’s demand for funding for border wall with Mexico.
The administration’s position places the so-called Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, (SNAP) which feeds roughly 40 million Americans, at the center of a budget standoff between Trump and the Democrat-controlled Congress that has cut off funding for much of the government since late December.
SNAP has received funding through February thanks to a legal provision that allowed money to be allocated within 30 days of a government shutdown, but the government has not identified a mechanism to extend the program into March.
“We continue to examine our options for SNAP benefits in March. The best solution is for Congress to pass appropriations legislation in a form the President can sign,” Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in an emailed response.
He did not elaborate on the content of options that are being examined.
The partial government shutdown was triggered last month by Trump’s demand that lawmakers provide nearly $6 billion dollars for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border - which he had promised voters during his election campaign.
Democrats have refused to include that funding, arguing a wall is unnecessary, and that there are more sophisticated ways to shore up national security and limit illegal immigration.
There was little sign on Tuesday that Trump and Democrats were any closer to agreeing on a compromise to end the shutdown, now in its fifth week.
The shutdown has rippled through a broad swatch of federal government, impacting national parks, airline security screening and the release of economic data. About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or are working without pay.
On Saturday, Trump proposed ending the government shutdown in a deal that would have restored temporary protections for immigrants brought illegally to the United States as minors, in exchange for the $5.7 billion he is seeking for the wall. Democrats promptly rejected Trump’s plan as insufficient.
Last year, SNAP was at the heart of months-long bitter partisan debate over farm bill, when Trump wanted to tighten requirements to be eligible for the food stamps, a move for which he failed to garner enough support.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Diane Craft