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Nation/World

March 3, 2014

States boost heating help to get around food-stamp cuts

HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut and New York have found a way around federal budget cuts that played a central role in the massive farm bill passed this month: bump up home heating assistance a few million bucks in return for preserving more than a half-billion dollars in food stamp benefits.

The moves by Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — with the possibility that more governors could follow — cheer social service advocates who say the deep recession and weak economic recovery have pounded low-income workers and the unemployed who rely on heating assistance and food stamps.

The $100 billion per year farm bill cut $800 million annually in the food stamp program by ending some state practices that give recipients minimal heating assistance — as low as $1 per person — to trigger higher food stamp benefits. Compromise legislation requires states to give recipients at least $20 in heating assistance before a higher food stamp benefit could kick in.

Connecticut and New York have both moved to bump up heating assistance in order to preserve the food stamp benefits, a decision backed by advocates and panned by critics who say it’s just a way to circumvent the point of the bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Feb. 7.

“The extra money being spent is an artificial boost of an amount that a household is receiving, but they’re doing so though a scheme, basically,” said Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

As much as 95 percent of food stamp funding is from Washington, and “states don’t have a concern about increased food stamp costs,” she said.

“We need to be sure that money spent goes to those most in need, rather than states using a loophole to boost money they’re receiving,” Sheffield said.

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