How Would the New Farm Bill Affect SNAP?

Marc Brazeau

An overview of what’s going on with the ag part of the bill can be found here.

The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe on cuts to SNAP:

Negotiators found a way to cut about $8 billion in funding for the program over the next decade.

Most of the savings will come by tweaking federal “heat and eat” benefits that House and Senate aides say have been exploited in recent years by several states and the District of Columbia to boost how much money some people receive from SNAP.

The changes will require the states and D.C. to pay more in “heat and eat” money, a move that will reduce, but not eliminate, SNAP payments by about $90 monthly for about 850,000 households.

The Farm Bill also cuts SNAP funding by prohibiting the Agriculture Department from spending money on television, radio and billboard ads to promote the program and on programs designed to recruit new beneficiaries. And in response to years of documented evidence of misuse and abuse of the program, USDA will need to ensure that illegal immigrants, lottery winners, college students and the dead cannot receive food stamps and that people cannot collect benefits in multiple states.

About Heat and Eat:

Lawmakers may tweak the “heat-and-eat” arrangement so that households must receive $20 in heating assistance before automatically qualifying for more food stamp benefits, according to media reports. Now, the threshold is as low as $1.

Advocates for the poor said that under the proposal, 175,000 households in Pennsylvania would lose an average of $65 in food stamp benefits each month.

New Jersey also utilizes the “heat-and-eat” arrangement.

Bill Clark, president of the hunger relief organization Philabundance, said the “heat and eat” setup makes it easier for low-income families to get the public benefits they need.

“It was just a more administratively efficient way of finding people who really needed the help, so it’s possible that this isn’t going to save anybody anything,” he said. “In fact, it may cost administratively more.”

Proponents said the change would eliminate a loophole that states take advantage of at the expense of taxpayers.

Robert Greenstein of The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities is fairly supportive, in a “If there are going to be cuts, this is how you do it” kind of way.

. . . it stands in sharp contrast to the nearly $40 billion in SNAP cuts in the House-passed bill of September, which contained an array of draconian provisions and would have thrown 3.8 million people off SNAP in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The conference agreement includes none of the draconian House provisions — and it removes virtually no low-income households from SNAP.

The SNAP cut that remains is a provision to tighten an element of the SNAP benefit calculation that some states have converted into what most people would view as a loophole. Specifically, some states are stretching the benefit formula in a way that enables them not only to simplify paperwork for many SNAP households, but also to boost SNAP benefits for some SNAP households by assuming those households pay several hundred dollars a month in utility costs that they do not actually incur. Congress did not intend for states to stretch the benefit rules this way, and longstanding SNAP supporters like myself find it difficult to defend. Moreover, a future Administration could close off this use of the rules administratively, without any congressional action.

Two-thirds of states do not use the current rules this way, and no SNAP beneficiaries in these states are expected to lose any benefits under this provision. Across the other one-third of states, CBO estimates that 88 to 89 percent of beneficiaries would remain untouched, while 11 to 12 percent would remain eligible for SNAP but face a benefit reduction because their state has used this practice to boost their benefits above what they would otherwise be.

Nationally, 4 percent of beneficiaries would face a benefit cut, CBO projects. Over the coming decade, total SNAP benefits would be 1.3 percent lower as a result. The 850,000 households that would lose benefits would, however, face a significant benefit reduction — costing them an average of $90 a month.

The final package also includes a number of other provisions designed to strengthen SNAP and to address features of the program that affect an infinitesimal number of households but can be used to stoke public hostility toward the program. For example, the agreement bars big lottery winners from receiving SNAP and clarifies that recipients may not deduct medical marijuana expenses to claim a larger SNAP benefit. The agreement also includes provisions designed to provide SNAP households with more access to healthy food outlets such as farmers’ markets, to ensure that retailers that participate in the program offer a healthy variety of foods for sale, and to tighten retailer compliance with SNAP rules. In addition, the proposed agreement would establish up to ten demonstration projects to test ways to provide more effective employment and training services for SNAP participants, which could provide useful information on how to better enable participants to secure and retain jobs.

Sources:

Hemp, farm-raised fish, food labels and food stamps: What’s in the farm bill?
Ed O’Keefe | The Fix | The Washington Post | 29 January 2014

Commentary: Nutrition Title of Farm Bill Agreement Drops Draconian Cuts and Represents Reasonable Compromise
Robert Greenstein | The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities | 27 January 2014

Healthy incentives are farm bill bright spot
Oran Hesterman | Congress Blog | The Hill | 28 January 2014

Changing ‘heat and eat’ benefit threatens food aid in Pa., N.J.
Holly Otterbein | Newsworks | 13 January 2014

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About Marc Brazeau

Free lance cultural attaché. Writing at REALFOOD.ORG.

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