Congress cuts ‘heat and eat’ program; state considers making up the difference in food stamps benefits

The omnibus Farm Bill just passed by Congress will hurt the food stamps program. The bill includes $8.6 billion in cuts over the next 10 years in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. U.S. House Republicans had initially sought $40 billion in reductions.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., says he is disappointed by the cuts; he characterized the reductions as “both morally and economically wrong to cut assistance to families in a very difficult economy.”

For all practical purposes, the new bill eliminates what is known as the “heat and eat” program in northern states. It requires 17 states to come up with additional monies to fund food stamps for people who are eligible for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program.

Only Vermont has said it will consider making up the difference in fiscal year 2015.

Marissa Parisi, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont, says if the state doesn’t step up, about 21,000 families would lose food stamps benefits worth $90 a month on average.

The total loss, mainly to seniors and the disabled, amounts to about $1.8 million per month in food purchasing power that would be spent in Vermont, according to John Sayles, executive director of the Vermont Foodbank.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has assured Sanders that he will work with the Legislature to prevent cuts to the “heat and eat” program.

The cost to cover the difference would be roughly $400,000 a year, Parisi says, or about $20 per household. The “heat and eat” program currently costs the state about $3 to $5 per person for a total cost of $75,000, which leverages about $6 million in food for families, she says.

Parisi says she worries that the state won’t be able to make up the difference in future years, and there is no assurance that the program will stay in place over the long run.

“What’s problematic is, it’s putting this responsibility of $9 billion in cuts at the national level on the backs of 17 states,” she said. “New York state, for example, has operated the program for many years, and they are highly unlikely to stretch LIHEAP that far. That’s what Congress is depending on — that states won’t be able to operate the program and then they’ll see savings.”

Parisi says the “heat and eat” program is a “fairness thing” for people who would be eligible for LIHEAP but don’t receive benefits because heat is included in their rent. These beneficiaries pay more for rent, but don’t get LIHEAP to offset the cost.

The state gives these families a $3 to $5 LIHEAP benefit for a heating season. The small payment triggers the highest utility deduction for food stamps eligibility, Parisi says.

This most recent federal cut to SNAP follows a reduction in monthly benefits that went into effect in December. During the Great Recession, families got a boost from federal stimulus funds. That additional food stamps money has been eliminated, and a family of four has seen a $36 a month reduction in monthly benefits.

Anne Galloway

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13 Comments on "Congress cuts ‘heat and eat’ program; state considers making up the difference in food stamps benefits"

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Wayne Andrews
2 years 3 months ago

Whats wrong with some of these receiving Vermonters take a part in a Vermont SNAP program? By Vermont SNAP program I mean Spade up the soil Now, And plant to Produce for later.
At least in Vermont we have the area, soil and help to do so.

Kathy Nelson
2 years 3 months ago
Wayne, a 1940’s mentality just doesn’t work in 2014. There are a lot of people in need who simply don’t have land to garden on or put a greenhouse up. Elderly people may not have the strength to “spade up” and small children can hardly be expected to know how to work a garden. The weather can make garden produce very unreliable and there is still a need for other nutrients such as grains and protein that one may not be able to produce on a tenement porch. I’m all for more gardening but I live in the world of… Read more »
Mary Daly
2 years 3 months ago

I know there are many people out there who need some help getting through a bad time. I also know there are people who abuse the system. Rather than just having the States filling in the gaps caused by this reduction, let’s investigate and prosecute the fraud. Then help the people who are participating to get off the program.

2 years 3 months ago
I understand the sentiment of reducing fraud and abuse in any system. With 3 Squares Vermont, and the SNAP program nationally, there is very little fraud. Nationally the error rate is less than 5%, and that includes mistakes the government makes in underpayments to recipients. Fraud dollars are better spent in our defense procurement systems, where the return on investigations is much higher. The best way to reduce fraud in SNAP is to improve the number and types of jobs that are available so that our neighbors don’t have to resort to food assistance. Improving the incomes of those at… Read more »
Lee Stirling
2 years 3 months ago

How many low-income people are we actually talking about whose heat is included in their rent, therefore making them ineligible for LIHEAP? How does this compare as a proportion of the total number of people eligible for LIHEAP. If it’s 30% of those eligible, that’s a big number and problematic. But if it’s 10% or less, that equates to a 90% or greater level of accessibility. That sounds pretty acceptable to me.

Aula DeWitt
2 years 3 months ago

Most, possibly all, of those who are housed via Section 8 in housing projects have their heat included in their rent. By defnition these families are also low income and most are eligible for SNAP. These would not be the only ones who fall into this category where rent includes heat and/or electricity powering air conditioners.

Deb Tyson
2 years 3 months ago
I know a family of 5 who received 798.00 a month in food benefits when the new law passed they now get 648.00 per month that is a big loss for a family struggling to get by . 150.00 dollar cut is painful and with the cost of food going up as well its even harder. They say eat healthier , yet with cuts like this, the starches will go farther and the fresh fruit and veggies are limited . So sad that we put such low value on those who need the most and give the rich tax breaks… Read more »
Peter Liston
2 years 3 months ago

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in …
Matthew 25:35

Michael Gardner
2 years 3 months ago

the money would go much further with home cooked meals, less prepackaged food, and discontinuing items like soda, candy, etc.

It’s a shame that home economics is no longer a socially/politically acceptable high school course

Dave Bellini
2 years 3 months ago

We have too many welfare programs and they should be combined into one. If people need food or help with heating or paying the rent….they all require the same thing – MONEY. So just determine the need and give them MONEY and cut all the red tape and complex regulations. Better yet, just raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and many people won’t need welfare.

Bob Sterling
2 years 3 months ago

Exactly Bill, very few work for minimum wage. Raising it essentially makes people un or under employed. It sounds nice to voters and liberals but the economics aren’t sound. Raising the minimum wage to 15 dollars would just send jobs straight out of VT.

This should give you a chuckle.

Fred Woogmaster
2 years 3 months ago

How sad!

While reading this, I thought of the ‘Scandinavian’ countries where there is probably no reason for such a conversation.

In those countries, -I have never been there – all essential services, including higher education, are provided by Government or non-profits outside of the ‘profit sector’, are they not?

The gap between the wealthy and the poor is much, much greater in the United States.
Reducing services and opportunity for those who are in the greatest need is shameful.

Many children in our communities struggle with feelings of hunger every day.
How sad!

John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago

Bob Sterling wrote: “Exactly Bill, very few work for minimum wage.”

In the US, there are 3.5 million workers who are paid minimum wage or less, which is 4.7% of the total workforce. http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2012tbls.htm#3

I suppose it depends on what you mean by “very few,” and whether or not you happen to be one of them.

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