Malloy considers blocking federal food stamp cuts

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Washington – Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is looking at a way to block cutbacks in the food stamp programs for as many as 68,000 Connecticut families next year — a result of changes to the program in a farm bill President Obama signed into law last week.

The farm bill seeks to trim the food stamp program, known officially as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, by $8.6 billion. It will do this  by ending the practice of 17 governors, including Malloy, of giving low-income people as little as $1 a year in heating assistance so they can  qualify for more money in food stamps. Anti-hunger advocates in Connecticut say the increase averages $90 a month.

The farm bill requires governors to offer more than $20 in Low Income Assistance Heating Program (LIHEAP) money to a low–income household so it could qualify for the extra food stamp money, and that’s what the Malloy administration may do.

“It’s  on the table,” said Gian-Carl Casa, spokesman for Connecticut’s Office of Management and Budget.

Casa said the issue is under discussion between the Office of Policy and Management and the Connecticut Department of Social Services, and a decision will be made later this week.

Anti-hunger advocates and members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation – who voted  unanimously against the farm bill because of the food stamp cuts – have urged Malloy to do this end run of the farm bill’s restrictions.

“We hope he does,” said Lucy Nolan, executive director at End Hunger Connecticut! “It’s clear the governor understands there’s a need in the state.”

But to Cullen Schwartz, press secretary to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who negotiated the SNAP cuts with House Republicans, what Malloy is considering is a “gimmick” that fuels the criticisms by GOP lawmakers who want deeper SNAP cuts.

“We need to increase food stamps in a fair and transparent way, but not by using a gimmick,” Schwartz.

Vermont Gov. Peter Schumlin is considering a similar way to prevent reductions of food stamp benefits to his constituents, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick may,  too.

But if too many states try to escape the farm bill’s restrictions by adjusting the “heat and eat”  program that allows families to qualify for larger benefits, the legislation may fall short of its goal of saving $8.6 billion.

Schwartz said the Congressional Budget Office, which determined how much would be saved by the farm bill’s SNAP changes, took into consideration the possibility that some governors would try to block the cuts.

The CBO did not return calls requesting comment.

To be able to give the 68,000 families who now receive $1 dollar in LIHEAP money more than $20, Malloy would have to reduce the money other LIHEAP beneficiaries receive, or pay the difference out of new state appropriations.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and other senators from the Northeast are trying to help governors like Malloy who are considering changes to the heat and eat program.

They sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last week asking for increases in the LIHEAP program to offset the increased costs faced by governors who are trying to block food stamp cuts. Connecticut will receive a total of $77.4 million in federal LIHEAP money this year.

“Heating and eating are basic necessities,” the letter said.

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