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Speaker Boehner calls 'heat and eat' a cheat

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04-02-14 (Butte Weekly)

                What were Montana Governor Steve Bullock and governors of at least 6 other states thinking when they made the decision to use federal low income energy funds to reverse cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) clients in last year’s Farm Bill? 

                Maybe they are traitors who want to scuttle actions by the Republican House of Representatives to starve working poor, elderly and disabled, and children. 

                Maybe they want better outcomes for their citizens, better health, better outcomes for children and families, and a better economy for their states.  Evidence supports this view, even as storm clouds loom for more attacks from those intent on cutting spending—especially on our country’s most needy—to help those most likely to support their political ambitions. 

                Apparently, House Speaker John Boehner-R, does not feel the same way.

                “Since the passage of the farm bill, states have found ways to cheat, once again, on signing up people for food stamps. And so I would hope that the House would act to try to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing,” Boehner said to reporters on Mar. 13. 

                Leadership in the U.S. House was livid at the actions of Governors Bullock and governors of Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island to increase payments to low income residents from federal low income energy assistance funds to bypass a provision in the Farm Bill passed last year.  More governors of the 17 states that have been participating in the “Heat and Eat” program, which allows low-income residents to qualify for increased SNAP benefits for participating in the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), are expected to pass similar measures.

                Why did these governors act? 

                The congressional committee drafting the Farm Bill found a provision allowing the states participating in the “Heat and Eat” program to qualify low income residents for SNAP benefits if the state provided even one dollar per year of LIHEAP funds.  The committee decided that increasing the amount provided by the state (from federal funds, remember?) must be at least $20 for the resident to qualify for the increased SNAP benefit.   This provision was supposed to cut federal SNAP benefits by $8 billion over 10 years.  Thanks to the action of the governors, this full reduction may not be realized. 

                Apparently, these governors did the math.  For instance, Montana, by increasing LIHEAP benefits to $20 for approximately 2,000 residents, will allow them to qualify for $2 million more in SNAP benefits, while costing the state only $24,000. That makes sense in health and the welfare of low income citizens.

                It also makes sense for growing the state economy.  Most economists estimate that the increase in food dollars for the poor will result in $1.70 to the Montana economy for every dollar of SNAP benefits spent.  In a state like Montana, which is agriculturally based, with local people spending their money on products produced in the state, like meat, grain and produce, this figure seems low. 

                Governor Bullock is right to join other states in embracing this measure to fight the petty fighting in Washington, D.C. to preserve the interests of big money at the expense of the mostly working poor, elderly, disabled and children.  It’s not fraud and it’s not trickery.  It’s the right thing to do for the citizens of our state.    

                The next big worry is that the well-heeled and well-endowed political contributors will continue to push the drafting of even more draconian measures to cut funding that helps those struggling with poverty.  Despite evidence that the economy is improving—even in Montana—some interests would love to continue to blame the “laziness” of the poor, rather than to shoulder their own fair share of the public burden.  

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