Governors Seek to Block Food-Stamp Cuts

Members of the Democratic Governors Association listen while Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, makes a statement outside the West Wing of the White House on February 21, 2014 in Washington. Members of the Democratic Governors Association spoke to the press after attending a meeting with US President Barack Obama and US Vice President Joe Biden.
National Journal
Billy House
Feb. 25, 2014, 3:32 p.m.

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.

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