Congress Continues Negotiations on Farm Bill: Protect SNAP!

Jan 16, 2014

By Helly Lee

Congress has yet to complete work on a 5-year Farm Bill reauthorization. The leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture committees continue to meet to discuss changes to the bill, leaving many to wonder what compromises on nutrition programs will come out of these closed-door sessions. Progress in moving the Farm Bill has been held up largely due to unresolved negotiations around agricultural provisions.  While much is still unclear, there have been some reports on what the conferees have tentatively agreed to regarding SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

It has been widely reported that the Farm Bill will include an $8.6 billion cut to SNAP over ten years; this would be accomplished by requiring that families receive at least $20 in heating assistance through the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in order to be eligible for an increase in their SNAP benefits. Under current law, a SNAP household can use a LIHEAP payment to document that the household has incurred heating costs, triggering a standard utility allowance which is calculated in the family’s SNAP benefit level. This is also known as “heat and eat.” Heat and eat boosts SNAP benefits for families receiving utility assistance. These cuts are similar to provisions in last year’s House Farm Bill and will affect, on average each year, 850,000 households, who will see an approximately $90 reduction in their SNAP benefits.  It will disproportionately affect households with elderly or disabled members.

The proposed cuts to heat and eat come on top of the cuts that hit SNAP households in November 2013 when the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary increases ended.  For a family of three, those cuts resulted in $29 less in benefits per month—a total of $319 for the fiscal year. Without the Recovery Act boost, SNAP benefits now average less than $1.40 per person per meal.

News reports also suggest that some of the most troubling provisions in the House Farm Bill – that would have cut benefits from an estimated 4 million individuals -- may not be included. This includes the provision that would have made it harder for unemployed workers to receive SNAP benefits, even when they were willing to work or participate in a job training program. There is reported to be a provision that is intended to encourage states to try new approaches in helping recipients find jobs and advance; CLASP will be reading this section closely when language is made public to ensure that it does not reward states for denying benefits to needy individuals.

The full conference committee is expected to take up the bill in the next couple weeks. This is a crucial time.  CLASP and advocates across the country are urging Congress to protect SNAP in the Farm Bill and in all other legislation.  We hope you’ll join us as we fight for families.  There’s still time to make your voice heard

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