WASHINGTON, March 26, 2014 - House Republicans are trying to figure out how to deal with states they believe are circumventing the intent of Congress by upping home heating assistance to lessen federal cuts in benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.
Aderholt, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, said Tuesday that he would meet with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., to discuss possible options.
“The intent of Congress was that states who have people who can legitimately receive [SNAP], receives it,” Aderholt said after a hearing of his subcommittee. “They didn’t intend for the governors to just artificially raise the numbers.”
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (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 reduce participation and help lead to $8.6 billion in savings over 10 years.
However, in the past several weeks, 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 are Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Oregon, Montana, Massachusetts and New York.
How this action will affect the overall savings of the Farm Bill remains unclear. Several Republicans have said it could reduce the savings to about $4 billion, while a recent memo from the House Agriculture Committee said it would not eliminate estimated savings.
Aderholt said the “jury is still out” on how this could affect any cost savings to the government. “But, I can’t help to see how there cannot be a decrease in the amount saved if people are circumventing the system and going around congressional intent,” Aderholt said.
Aderholt said more states may follow suit, and that he and other lawmakers will monitor the situation. He said there “a lot of different options” on how Congress could address the issue with the states, but he did not provide details.
The move by the states, mostly with Democratic governors, has angered many Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who recently said it amounted to “cheating and fraud.” “We just passed the farm bill, and then we find states finding ways around the law, and, frankly, perpetuating the fraud that we were trying to stop,” Boehner said.
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. “The decision by the states does not affect savings.”
Subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr, D-Calif., said it was outrageous that Republican lawmakers would oppose allowing states to contribute more money to increase SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps.
“The war is between Congress and governors that want to administer poverty programs in a manageable way and Congress saying you’re letting them get more money than they would otherwise,” Farr said. “It’s like knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. This money is spent at local vendors.”
The subcommittee’s hearing was held to discuss the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal for USDA’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, but was largely dominated by the SNAP issue. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., asked Kevin Concannon, USDA’s undersecretary of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, if he thought the states’ “scheme undermined the integrity” of the SNAP program.
Concannon said he did not and noted that the $20 spent by the state would generate $1,000 in food spending and that the move by the states was legal. “A lot of people are struggling,” Concannon added.
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