States are using a loophole to negate Congress's food-stamp savings

Earlier this year and after quite the drawn-out kerfuffle, both chambers of Congress finally managed to agree to move beyond the stopgap legislative maneuvering they’d been using in place of a long-term farm bill — and despite making very few and really only cosmetic changes to the shameless corporate welfare that is agricultural portion of the legislation, House Republicans and Senate Democrats settled on cutting the federal food stamp program’s almost $80 billion/year budget by a total amounting to one percent. Republicans had originally been looking for something more along the lines of a five percent budget cut, seeing as how the program’s enrollment went from about 34 million in 2009 to more than 47 million in 2013. Even though Democrats keep informing us that the recession is over, the economy is rebounding, and employment has genuinely improved, they loudly insisted that five percent in budget savings more or less amounted to a spitefully inflicted human rights violation. They still weren’t happy about the one percent cut, mind you — citing it as an example of Republicans’ allegedly perverse penchant for watching people starve, rather than their actual desire to pare down our tremendous national debt and metastasizing government and welfare state in an effort to grow the economy back to health — but Democrats went along begrudgingly.

For a hot second, that is. Via WaPo:

Governors in several states are using a loophole in the farm bill to restore food aid for thousands of low-income families, potentially wiping out billions of dollars in savings Congress agreed to last month. …

The loophole concerns a provision, known as “Heat and Eat,” that allows people to get added food stamp benefits if they also qualify for a program that helps pay heating costs for the poor.

To qualify, people previously needed to get as little as $1 in heating aid. Several states provided that amount so residents could get more food stamp benefits. Congress sought to curb the practice – and save $8.5 billion – by raising the minimum requirement to $20.

Governors in eight states have responded by simply giving people another $19 to qualify for the extra food stamp benefits. …

“Clearly, Congress intended to grant states the authority to provide this vital benefit which is a lifeline to some of our most vulnerable constituents,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) wrote in an angry letter [pdf] to Boehner.

The Democratic governors of Montana, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as Republican Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, have all moved forward, and it looks like the governors of Washington, California, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, and Wisconsin might be joining up soon — with most of the money coming from federal blocks from which a lot of states end up with extra money at the end of the year. I suppose it is these states’ prerogative to use that cash how they please, and you can bet that they’ll happily hammer away at those starvation-loving Republicans while they’re at it (elections, you know) — but this is a great example of how big government, once grown, is almost impossible to trim back.

David Strom 6:41 PM on September 26, 2022