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Congress Seeks To End 'Heat And Eat' Program That Ties Food Stamps To Home Heating Aid

As congress moves to slash food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps, some states have been figuring out ways to get more food to people in need through a program called “heat and eat.”

Now the U.S. Senate wants to close what critics of helping people eat call a loophole in the law as a way to trim $4 billion over 10 years from the SNAP program. At the same time, Congress wants to bring down the hatchet on the food stamp program, gutting it by $35 million.

This comes after a cut in the program already went into effect on Nov. 1

The House would achieve its new cuts through work requirements, mandatory drug testing and other harsh measures. However, more than three of every four households that receive SNAP assistance include a child or an elderly or disabled person. And 30 percent of food stamp recipients already work, but make so little money they qualify for food stamps.

Under “heat and eat” households that receive subsidies to heat their homes automatically qualify for additional food stamp benefits — an average of $1,080 per year, or 20 bucks and change for food each week.

States such as Connecticut have used the program to grant as little as $1 per year in heating assistance to families, in order to help them qualify for more food assistance.

The House proposal would raise the required heating subsidy to $20 per year in order to trigger additional food aid, making the program too expensive for most states.

Food stamp spending has increased since the financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequent recession that it caused. While many Republican critics have attributed the growth to “waste, fraud and abuse,” a study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities earlier this year found that “SNAP is effective and efficient,” and that the rate of such abuses is actually very low.

“SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program, and despite the recent growth in caseloads, the share of total SNAP payments that represent overpayments, underpayments, or payments to ineligible households reached a record low in fiscal year 2011,” the report said.

The growth in food stamp spending was caused primarily by the increased demand during the recession, as more people either lost their sources of income or were forced into low-paying jobs.

SOURCES: Bloomberg News, CBPP, My Record Journal, Bill Moyers


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