The Facts About:
“Heat and Eat” and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Washington State
Congress is proposing major cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) at a time when Washington’s caseload continues to grow due to the slowed economic recovery. Washington anti-hunger advocates are concerned about proposed changes to the program that would have a direct and significant impact on many Washingtonians who rely on nutrition assistance benefits to feed their families.
SNAP is the number one defense against hunger in America and is a vital lifeline for over one million Washingtonians who continue to struggle during these times of severe economic distress.
What is the “heat and eat” option?
For many families, limited income results in tough choices between “heating or eating.” For young children, adequate nutrition may be jeopardized because limited funds must go to keeping a roof over their heads and the lights on.
Congress granted states the flexibility to assist families with high heating costs by providing a Standard Utility Adjustment (SUA), particularly important to areas of Washington with severe winters. In 2009, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services expanded the number of households able to receive this SUA by implementing a “heat and eat” $1 benefit from the LIHEAP energy assistance program. This special LIHEAP benefit simplifies the benefit calculation for these households and significantly increases their SNAP benefits.
What is the proposed change to this option?
The Farm Bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee in April 2012 includes a $4.5 billion over ten years cut to SNAP created by increasing the threshold amount of LIHEAP needed to trigger the SUA to $10. The proposed change would place the “heat and eat” option out of reach of states like Washington who are experiencing reductions in LIHEAP funding.
What is the impact of the proposed change to “heat and eat” on hungry families and local communities?
The change to the “heat and eat” option is not simply a technical change. It is a change that would reduce SNAP benefits for a minimum of 200,000 households in Washington by $90 per household per month, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
When implemented in 2009, the “heat and eat” option resulted in increased benefits for 40% of Washington’s SNAP caseload, resulting in an additional $42 million in benefits spent in Washington grocery stores in 2009. With a total of $9 of economic activity per each $5 of benefits spent, this change created $75 million in the stalling economy.
Since fiscal year 2009, when the option was implemented, the number of Washington households receiving SNAP has increased by nearly 50%. Loss of the “heat and eat” option now would take $218 million in benefits away from Washington families, and $388 million in total economic activity away from the state’s economy.
What is the impact of the proposed change on the State of Washington?
Implementing the “heat and eat” option streamlined administration of SNAP in Washington, saving the equivalent of 14.5 full-time equivalents. Workload savings occurred because eligibility workers did not have to comb through utility bills, landlord statements and other documentation to verify utility expenses of families qualifying for SNAP.
Between 2008 and 2012, local Community Services Offices lost 410 FTEs due to state budget reductions and hiring freezes. Implementing “heat and eat” as well as other options to streamline SNAP administration allows DSHS to continue to provide timely benefits to eligible and hungry Washington families.
Joining together to oppose the change to “heat and eat”
Governor Christine Gregoire has joined anti-hunger advocates in calling on Washington’s Congressional Delegation to voice their opposition to the proposed change to “heat and eat” to House and Senate Agriculture Committee members.
As Washington continues to rebuild from the severe economic downturn, SNAP benefits are a critical support to working families. This is not the time to restrict state options to streamline the program, or eliminate state options that make SNAP more responsive to households affected by high heating costs.
We urge the US Congress to strongly support retention of the “heat and eat” option in the SNAP program in the 2012 Farm Bill.
For more information, contact Linda Stone, Food Policy Director, Children’s Alliance, email@example.com and 509-844-1314