The program helps 45 million Americans.

WASHINGTON -- One of the U.S. government's largest safety net programs won't be there to catch people if the federal government shuts down next month.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides monthly food benefits to 45 million Americans, will go dark if Congress fails to pass a law funding government operations after Oct. 1, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program.

"If Congress does not act to avert a lapse in appropriations, then USDA will not have the funding necessary for SNAP benefits in October and will be forced to stop providing benefits within the first several days of October," a USDA spokesperson said in an email. "Once that occurs, families won’t be able to use these benefits at grocery stores to buy the food their families need."

When the government shut down for 16 days in October 2013, the USDA used contingency funds to maintain benefits, but those funds are apparently gone now, according to the USDA and Senate Democrats. Other big safety net programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, would not be affected.

"On a week when the Pope is making an historic visit to Washington to remind us all of our moral obligation to care for the poorest and most vulnerable among us, it is shameful that we are even contemplating a politically-driven shutdown that would take food off the tables of millions of children, seniors, and disabled Americans," Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said in a statement. "It’s time for our colleagues across the aisle to finally get to work and make sure millions of Americans don’t go hungry."

While Republican leaders in the House and Senate have said a shutdown shouldn't happen, a faction of GOP lawmakers in each chamber has vowed to vote against any appropriations bill that doesn't cut funding to Planned Parenthood, which the lawmakers falsely accuse of harvesting baby parts for profit.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Senate Democrats should support a GOP-sponsored continuing resolution that would keep the government open while defunding Planned Parenthood.

"The best way to ensure SNAP recipients receive needed support is to vote for the [continuing resolution]," Roberts said. "I’m prepared to do so, and if members are worried about SNAP funding, they should too."

This story has been updated to include comment from Roberts.

HuffPost readers: Do you receive SNAP benefits? What would it mean for you if a government shutdown delayed benefits next month? Tell us about it -- email Please include your phone number if you're willing to be interviewed.

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