Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Friday 12/20/13

The Nuances of LIHEAP, SNAP and Heat and Eat

Following some concerns expressed about an article I wrote on Thursday, I have to build on some of the comments by Sen. Tom Harkin about potential nutrition cuts in the farm-bill conference negotiations.

Harkin said Thursday a compromise would cut about $8 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by changing the way states use the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, (LIHEAP) to boost SNAP benefits. Some state have been "gaming" the system, Harkin said.

Senate Agriculture Committee staffers were concerned about the lack of breadth in details regarding the comments made by Harkin and my lack of details in explaining what Harkin technically meant to explain.

When a person or family goes to qualify for SNAP benefits, they fill out an income sheet and deduct certain expenses from that gross income to determine their food-stamp benefits. That includes "excess shelter deduction which includes utility costs. If a family qualifies for LIHEAP, this deduction can be boosted, driving a higher SNAP benefit for the family.

Practically every state factors in the LIHEAP provision. As many as 16 states have created "heat and eat" policies. They give residents LIHEAP aid for as little as $1 a year to qualify for the "heat and eat" provision. That boosted their SNAP benefits by an average of $1,080 per year, a Bloomberg report stated.

On the Senate floor in June 2012, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., acknowledged the "heat and eat" loophole, saying it was not congressional intent to give people $1 in heating aid to drive up SNAP benefits. "For a small number of states that are doing that, it is undermining the integrity of the program, in my judgment," Stabenow said.

A Congressional Research Service report -- I love those guys -- last May noted that under the provisions in the Senate bill, a household that received less than $10 in LIHEAP assistance would have to present other documentation factoring in their energy costs in order to receive an income deduction when factoring potential SNAP benefits. The House bill pushed it to a $20 floor.

Harkin effectively said the key provision in cutting nutrition is to accept the $20 level in the House bill. That was scored at a $8.7 billion savings.

Senate Agriculture Committee staff wanted to stress that even if people don't qualify for the "heat and eat" provision, that doesn't necessarily mean they would not qualify for SNAP. But those people would have to meet new LIHEAP thresholds to qualify for benefits above and beyond what they would normally receive.

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.

Posted at 9:43AM CST 12/20/13 by Chris Clayton
Comments (3)
Thanks Chris, I have not heard the "Heat and Eat" term before. I believe other areas such as the earned income tax credit is another area which needs to be looked at. Abuse by counties and states to generate revenues encourages abuse in many areas. For example, believe it or not, some school districts turn a profit in the hot lunch program.
Posted by Bonnie Dukowitz at 5:49AM CST 12/21/13
We need to work twice as hard at getting people back to work as finding ways to qualify them for SNAP & LIHEAP benefits. At this Christmas time of year - giving should be all about giving a person back their natural human need to be a valued person in this great country. Our elected people and other government people have been working on improving the SNAP program and other helping programs for over 30 plus years with only one result - the US spends more money each year and we have solved nothing to get people back to work which will get them feeling good about themselves and proud to live in this great country. Helping people in need is always going to be needed however the United States in the past SNAP years has not figured out how to really help people in need.
Posted by John Finley at 8:43AM CST 12/23/13
The policies of this once great country has sent many of jobs outside the US. As a kid growing up I remember going to tractor dealerships with the ole man for tractor parts, and noting then just how much stuff was produced in this country in comparison to today, it is a shame. I do not see how we will sustain ourselves, with the road we are currently on.
Posted by GWL 61 at 6:41AM CST 12/24/13
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