The new sign for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) “We Welcome SNAP Benefits”. USDA photo 10di1363-15
The Farm Bill, signed into law last month, cuts $8.6 billion from the SNAP program. Corbett and other state governors are working to reverse it, even if it means sustaining a program that is widely known to contain a loophole.
The program, dubbed “Heat and Eat,” allows people who receive LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) to automatically deduct utility costs from the calculation that determines their SNAP benefits. Anyone eligible for SNAP can usually deduct utility costs, but they have to provide evidence that they pay the bill themselves.
This automatic deduction, often based on standardized utility rates, became a sort of loophole for getting more SNAP benefits to those in need. People receiving as little as $1 per year on heating assistance were able to access additional SNAP benefits. 17 states and Washington D.C. use the program.
But U.S. legislators from both sides of the aisle accused states of providing LIHEAP to people without heating bills (renters, for example) so as to artificially inflate their SNAP benefits.
(Update: renters with heat included can still receive LIHEAP if they spend 30 percent or more of their household income on rent).
“Seventeen states are providing individuals who don’t have a heating a bill (often because their utilities are included in their rent and are already accounted for in the expense section of their application) with $1 per year in home heating (LIHEAP) assistance. This $1 per year is clearly not actually meant to help someone pay a heating bill,” according to a blog post from the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
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To regulate this, the Farm Bill now requires that a person receive at least $20 per month in LIHEAP to get the additional SNAP benefits.
But anti-hunger advocates and state governments have stressed the importance of the additional benefits, regardless of how they are generated.
Governor Corbett and a number of other state governments, including New York and Connecticut, are designating more money from the federal block grant that pays for LIHEAP to fill the gap. So if a resident received $1 in assistance, the state will pay $19 so they can remain eligible for the additional SNAP benefits.
Julie Zaebst, manager of policy for the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, recognized that the Heat and Eat program might not be necessary if current SNAP allotments were enough.
The continuation of Heat and Eat in PA will preserve $300 million in aid to 400,000 families, the PA Department of Welfare told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette .
Zaebst also stressed how Heat and Eat benefits especially vulnerable groups: “I think what’s important about this program is that it boosts SNAP benefits for seniors and people with disabilities.”
“Households with elderly and disabled members can claim the full amount of their shelter costs. Households without elderly or disabled members face a cap on the amount of their shelter deduction,” Zaebst explained in an email.
The Food Research and Action Center, a national anti-hunger organization, also argued in a press release responding to the Farm Bill that Heat and Eat has benefited these groups:
“Bottom line, elimination of ‘Heat and Eat’ means lost meals for elderly and disabled households.”
Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger – State of Hunger: Pennsylvania 2013
Institute of Medicine – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Examining the Evidence to Define Benefit Adequacy
Philabundance – Philabundance Community Report
(Image via USDAgov.)-30-
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