After an update from Policy Director, Diane Sullivan, on HFF priorities for the remainder of FY13, Pat Baker of the Mass Law Reform Institute (MLRI) briefed us on the Farm Bill that is currently up for debate in Congress. It passed the Senate yesterday and will be moving on to the House next week.
What’s on the table?
Well, for some SNAP beneficiaries, nothing anymore.
The “Heat and Eat” program is on the table and ready to be cut. Currently, low-income residents can take advantage of the LIHEAP energy assistance program which simplifies the calculation to determine amount of SNAP benefits and verifications needed for households that are constantly forced with the choice of “heating or eating”. The Senate proposed to increase the threshold amount of LIHEAP while the House proposes to eliminate it entirely.
Changes in LIHEAP don’t just mean a different, more difficult form of receiving SNAP benefits. About 120,000 Massachusetts residents alone can expect an averaged $70.00 decrease in SNAP benefits per household each month. And the households that are on the chopping block? 80% are seniors or people with disabilities and over 35% of the SNAP households to experience cuts include young children.
Something called the Vitter Amendment happened, and it’s very hard to stomach. This amendment proposes a lifetime ban for murderers, rapists and sex offenders who might need public assistance upon having served their time. It shuts down the individual and takes away their personhood as if they are no longer a part of their own family. So if the parent of two children is also an ex-convict, that household will receive benefits for a two person family instead of three. Getting into this would take a blog post of its own, so let’s just say that it really doesn’t sit well and move on to the next item on the pro-hunger menu.
Also cooking on the House floor is the Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) component of SNAP. This is a way to waive restrictions that keep people from receiving SNAP benefits, namely the gross income and asset tests. Currently, you have to be at 130% of the federal poverty line (FPL) and have less than $2,000 in assets. Cat El increases eligibility to 200% of the FPL and eliminates the asset test for families who receive a cash (or non-cash means tested) benefit.
Eliminating Cat El is estimated to swallow SNAP benefits for 1.8 million people. Oh, and, about 280,000 children would lose access to free school meals.
In addition to these changes, the Senate proposed to make $4 billion in cuts to SNAP over the next 10 years, while the House will attempt to slash the SNAP budget by $20.5 billion in the next decade.
It needs to be clear. There are nine titles in the Farm Bill. SNAP is the largest, but funds can, and should, come from any of the other titles that don’t immediately empty the bellies of low-income children.
SNAP is already taking a hit come November. In 2009, President Obama approved a 13.6 increase in SNAP as part of the economic stimulus. Not only does taking away the small amount of money parents receive to feed their children affect the family, but it impacts the stores they buy their food from. This increased budget sunsets Nov 1 and families can expect to lose $24/month thereafter.
So what can you do?
-Call your House Member of Congress and confirm that he or she will VOTE AGAINST the House Farm Bill. Find your Representative here: www.house.gov
-Join the SNAP Challenge Movement alongside these members of the Congress (Or at LEAST thank them!):
Lee (CA), Matsui (CA), Holmes-Norton (DC), Carney (DE), Schakowsky (IL), Duckworth (IL), McGovern (MA), Conyers (MI), Kildee (MI), Levin (MI), Ellison (MN), McCollum (MN), Nolan (MN), Watt (NC), Kuster (NH), Lujan-Grisham (NM), Crowley (NY), Rangel (NY), Fudge (OH), DeFazio (OR), Cartwright (PA), Langevin (RI), O’Rourke (TX), Veasey (TX), DelBene (WA), Pocan (WI). We will keep you posted if more MA Delegation members join in.
In addition, aides in a number of the Massachusetts Congressional Offices have reported to MLRI that they are also taking the SNAP Challenge.
As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. Apparently the House wants some of us to be nothing.