April 23, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 17

News

To prevent cuts to food stamps, Washington to make use of ‘heat and eat’ loophole

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

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Washington state will prevent federal cuts to food-stamp benefits for about 200,000 people, thanks to a loophole left in the federal Farm Bill.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced April 10 that he would take advantage of the loophole, which could prevent people from losing an average of $90 a month from their food stamp benefits starting in November.

In February, Congress agreed to cut $8.6 billion in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes known as food stamps.

The so-called “heat and eat” loophole allows states to prevent the cuts by using a federal heating program to provide SNAP clients with $20.01 in assistance, whether or not they need it. Clients on the federal heating program can continue to receive the same amount of SNAP benefits.

It’s unclear how much it will cost the state to prevent cuts to the program, said John Camp who oversees the food stamp program at the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

If the state gave every food stamp client in the state $20.01 in heating assistance, it would cost $14.5 million.

But the state needs to provide the assistance only to the approximately 200,000 people who will lose food stamp benefits in November.

The food stamp cuts apply to SNAP clients who are not already receiving federal heating assistance and are not otherwise eligible for the maximum amount of food stamps.

The state will spend much less to provide these people with $20.01, Camp said, but he could not provide exact figures.

The SNAP clients will receive the $20.01 on their Electronic Benefit Transfer card along with their food stamp benefits.

According to congressional Republicans, the loophole was meant to reduce the usage of food stamp benefits.

Previously, the rule said that anyone receiving more than $1 in heating assistance could receive additional benefits in food stamps. Congress increased it to $20, expecting that many people would be disqualified.

Instead, seven states announced plans to provide SNAP clients with heating assistance. Governors in Oregon, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Montana and Vermont announced plans to take advantage of the loophole, and others are considering the idea.

House Speaker John Boehner told the Washington Post in March that he intends to introduce legislation to stop “this cheating and this fraud.”

Camp disagreed.

“We are working within the parameters that the Congress gave us,” he said.

In Washington, about 1.1 million people in 593,000 households received food stamp benefits in January.

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