Several governors are trying to thwart attempts to reduce food-stamp payments to their states, in a move that could affect portions of the recently passed farm bill aimed at saving $8.6 billion over the next 10 years.
While congressional aides conceded Tuesday that the moves could have some impact on projected savings in the federal budget, they say it is too early to tell exactly how significant that impact might be.
Democratic Govs. Peter Shumlin of Vermont and Deval Patrick of Massachusetts have indicated they are considering such moves; Connecticut’s Dannel Malloy made his intentions clear in a statement this week.
“Connecticut, for one, will not stand by while our low-income families and elders are put at risk by Washington politics,” Malloy said.
Malloy said Connecticut is moving to maintain current levels of food-stamp, or Supplement Nutritional Assistance Program, benefits and has directed his administration to “take all necessary measures to protect beneficiaries from the negative consequences of the farm bill.”
What the governors have in mind amounts to an end run around a new set of requirements that governs how recipients receive food-stamp assistance in the states.
The farm bill’s much-touted reductions were brought about largely by changing eligibility requirements for food stamps, which are based in some cases on low-income heating assistance provided by the states. As many as 17 states could pay out as little as $1 to recipients to boost that person’s eligibility for food aid. The farm bill changed that requirement to at least $20.01, and the assumption was that the federal funding for the food-stamps program would decrease as a result.
Yet in an effort to avoid the cuts, Connecticut officials have shifted an added $1.4 million of funds available under the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program to meet the new threshold. The move is expected to preserve about $66.6 million in annual food-stamp benefits for households in Connecticut.
Passage of the farm bill and its $8.6 billion cut to food stamps capped a long and divisive negotiation between the House and Senate, a significant amount of which was focused on conservative demands to cut the SNAP payments.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow had no immediate comment on what the governors are doing.
Congressional budget auditors, in analyzing the savings projected by raising the heating-assistance threshold, anticipated that some states might move to prevent the cuts. The Congressional Budget Office suggested that because of budgetary constraints, “it seems unlikely that a state would give more than $20 to every household that had been receiving less than $20, but it is an option that is open to states.”
Congressional aides said that even if the savings do come up less than projected, there are other aspects of the bill that will help lower costs. For instance, the bill establishes a pilot program to encourage food-stamp recipients to seek jobs.