Lucas and Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., Steve King, R-Iowa, and Tim Murphy, R-Pa., sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlining concerns about states circumventing the intent of Congress by upping assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to lessen federal reductions of SNAP.
LIHEAP, or “heat and eat,” had allowed some states to be eligible for increased SNAP benefits by sending $1 LIHEAP checks to households. As part of the new farm bill, Congress raised the threshold to $20, which some lawmakers and the Congressional Budget Office said would help lead to $8.6 billion in savings over 10 years.
However, seven of the 17 LIHEAP states have said they will raise their $1 payments to $20 in order to continue the increased SNAP funding. The states include: Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Oregon, Montana, Massachusetts and New York.
“Secretary Sebelius must hold states accountable when they are administering federal programs and spending federal dollars,” Lucas said. “We will continue our oversight efforts of both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and HHS to ensure that LIHEAP and SNAP are carried out as Congress intended when it wrote the law.”
The lawmakers contend that there has been no effort by HHS to end this practice. “LIHEAP is a very important program to help low-income households pay their energy bills,” Upton said. “We need to make certain that LIHEAP funds aren’t being abused or diverted to other purposes.”
The move by the states, mostly with Democratic governors, has angered many Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said it amounted to “cheating and fraud.”
But, Democrats contend the move is legal under the farm bill, which does not prohibit states from increasing the LIHEAP checks. “I say ‘bravo’ to the states and they are following the law,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
Kevin Concannon, under secretary of USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, recently defended the move by the states, noting that the $20 spent by the state would generate $1,000 in food spending and that the action was legal. “A lot of people are struggling,” Concannon said.
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