ALBANY — Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced Friday that all Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients will receive next month's benefits no later than March 7 - approximately one week earlier than scheduled. The early release is intended to ease the burden on recipients that have been forced to stretch February's benefits for more than six weeks because of the recent unprecedented shutdown of the federal government.

"We will not allow the abject failure of leadership in Washington to jeopardize the ability of families to put food on the table," Governor Cuomo said. "This early release of food benefits will provide a measure of relief to New Yorkers who rely on this critical program to make ends meet."

About 2.7 million individuals and 1.5 million households rely on SNAP benefits to make ends meet. In December alone, New York State issued more than $374 million to help New Yorkers avoid food insecurity.

The federal government directed states to issue SNAP benefits on Jan. 17 due to the government shutdown. Approximately 1.4 million households received their February benefits three weeks earlier than normal, to ensure sufficient funding was available.

In addition to issuing SNAP benefits early, the Governor has extended the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Food Drive, which was set to conclude this week. Recognizing the increased strain on food banks and pantries, the Governor extended the food drive through the end of March to help state agencies collect additional food during a critical time for local banks and pantries.

The food drive, co-sponsored by the Food Bank Association of New York State, calls on State agencies to collect food items or monetary donations for their local community food banks, food pantries, and other service-oriented programs. Over the past 18 years, state agencies have collaborated with community-based organizations to collect more than 587,000 pounds of food amounting to approximately 490,000 meals for those in need. The food is donated to the nine food banks that make up the Food Bank Association of New York State.

Nearly 20,000 New Yorkers were furloughed during the federal shutdown and many more were working without pay for 35 days, leaving countless New Yorkers with no choice but to seek emergency food assistance for the first time. Also, as SNAP recipients exhaust their February benefits, food banks and pantries are expecting even greater demand, while dealing with limited resources.

To donate or volunteer, visit the Food Bank Association's website at www.feedingnys.org/donate.

New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Acting Commissioner Mike Hein said, "We are working to help New Yorkers bridge the SNAP gap caused by the federal shutdown by getting March SNAP benefits to recipients earlier than usual. But we know many families will still be forced to seek assistance from their local food pantry. Everyone can play a role in this effort by donating food or money to help those in need."