February 28, 2014 — When the 2014 Farm Bill changed the requirements for states coordinating their federal energy (LIHEAP) and food (SNAP) assistance programs, over a dozen states began investigating whether they could continue offering these "Heat and Eat" initiatives. Connecticut and New York announced this week they would allocate more LIHEAP funds to keep increased SNAP benefit levels in place for low-income households.
"Heat and Eat" programs allow low-income households receiving LIHEAP benefits to maximize their Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) under SNAP (commonly referred to as food stamps). The SUA is a fixed dollar amount for a household's utility expenses that is used when calculating shelter expenses for SNAP benefits. The LIHEAP benefit, which states had set as low as $1, could result in increased SNAP benefits for a household. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, states must provide at least a $20 LIHEAP benefit for "Heat and Eat."
With the Farm Bill's passage, "Heat and Eat" states began evaluating whether they could afford to keep their programs. This week, governors in both Connecticut and New York announced they would dedicate more LIHEAP funds to comply with the Farm Bill mandate and preserve their programs.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced his state would use $1.4 million in LIHEAP funds to keep increased SNAP benefits in place for the 50,000 low-income households benefiting from "Heat and Eat." He said the LIHEAP investment would preserve about $66 million annually in SNAP benefits for those families. The LIHEAP benefit will be raised from $1 to $20.01 per household by March 15.
"Connecticut, for one, will not stand by while our low-income families and elders are put at risk by Washington politics," stated Governor Malloy. "I have directed my administration to take all necessary measures to protect Connecticut beneficiaries of the federal SNAP program from the negative consequences of the Farm Bill."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo likewise announced this week that his state was keeping its "Heat and Eat" program in place. He said the state would use $6 million in LIHEAP funds to keep increased SNAP benefits for nearly 300,000 low-income households. The move will keep those families from losing a combined $457 million annually in SNAP benefits.
"These federal cuts [through the Farm Bill] have made it harder for our state's most vulnerable residents to put food on the table," Governor Cuomo said. "The state has intervened on behalf of these low-income New Yorkers to make sure they can get food for themselves and their families."
During debate over the Farm Bill, some lawmakers thought "Heat and Eat" had exploited a loophole by offering LIHEAP payments as low as $1. However, states had implemented the programs to address the negative impacts rising energy costs have on low-income families meeting other basic needs. A 2011 survey by the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association illustrated this dynamic, finding that one-third of respondents had gone without food due to high energy costs.
Sources: Media reports, NEADA