The law tightens what critics call a loophole which qualified people receiving at least $1 in utility assistance for food stamp benefits as well -- part of the federal “Heat and Eat” option to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, designed to ensure that families don’t have to choose between feeding themselves or staying warm during the winter months. The minimum utility assistance to qualify is now $20.
The law affects 16 states and the district of Columbia, and shortly after Obama signed the bill into law, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and 71 other congressional Democrats attempted to delay the cuts, saying in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “Our states need time to adjust their policies to accommodate this drastic cut and roll out the changes seamlessly.”
Though their attempt to forestall the cuts was unsuccessful, several states have found means to get families the assistance they depend on. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett used federal aid in the form of a grant from the state's Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to cover the difference in utility costs and allow families to continue receiving the same food benefits with no additional cost to the state, a surprise move from the struggling Republican.
"We're very pleased," said Maripat Pileggi of Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. "This will prevent really devastating cuts to vulnerable households trying to afford nutritious food to get through the month."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, both Democrats, also found ways to increase heating assistance in order to avoid a reduction in SNAP benefits.
“Poor people are getting screwed by this Republican majority [in the House] and Democrats in my opinion aren’t doing enough to push back,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, an opponent of the farm bill. “I wish there had been more of a fight from the White House and others.”
He added his concern about the Obama administration’s silence on the matter and worried that, after their unchallenged success in cutting $8.7 billion dollars in benefits, Republicans may try for deeper cuts in the future. "They know they can’t get a $40 billion cut right off the bat, so what they’re doing is they’re chipping away at it," he said.
[New York Daily News] [Philadelphia Inquirer] [MSNBC]