Washington – Rep. Rosa DeLauro Tuesday vigorously defended the steps Connecticut and a growing number of other states have taken to avoid a reduction in food stamp benefits for millions of households.
“First of all I say, ‘Bravo,’” DeLauro, a Democrat who represents the New Haven area, said. “They are following the law.”
But angry GOP lawmakers are vowing new cuts to the food stamp program.
“I suspect that this will create a call for action from members of the House,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla. “These governors now will cause a new set of hearings, a new set of bills, a new set of appropriations amendments.”
The actions of Gov. Dannel Malloy, and at least seven other Democratic governors and one Republican — Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania — incensed House Republicans who entered into a deal with Democrats to cut $8.6 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, over 10 years.
Most of the savings would come from a ban on the practice of 17 states, including Connecticut, of giving food stamp recipients as little as $1 a year in heating assistance benefits so they would qualify for a larger amount of food stamps.
The farm bill approved by Congress said food stamp beneficiaries must receive more than $20 in heating assistance to qualify for a greater amount of food stamps. The difference in benefits, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says, is an average of $96 a month in increased SNAP benefits.
So Malloy and other governors said they’d raise the minimum Low Income Home Energy Assistant Program contribution to thousands of families. About 50,000 families in Connecticut will be affected.
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner led off the GOP outcry against the move, calling it “cheating” and a “fraud.” The complaints continued Tuesday.
“One federal program should not be manipulated in order to get more federal dollars from another,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., who chaired a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on next year’s budget for food stamps and other federal nutritional programs.
Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., said Malloy and the other governors are perpetrating a “scheme.” He asked Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for Food and Nutrition at the USDA, if he thinks the governors’ actions “undermined the integrity of the (food stamp) program.”
“No, I do not,” Concannon said. “The law does not prohibit it.”
DeLauro, a member of the Appropriations panel, was the fiercest defender of what the governors have done.
She cited a Republican memo that said the Congressional Budget Office had taken into account the fact that some governors might try to circumvent the cuts – at least for a while – when it determined how much the change in policy would save.
“So what we need to do is get the facts of the issue,” DeLauro said.
DeLauro also took issue with GOP concerns about widespread fraud and abuse in the SNAP program.
“There is five times as much fraud in the (federal) crop insurance program,” DeLauro said. “We would do well to look at fraud, waste and abuse in that program.”
It’s not clear is how long Malloy and other governors can afford to shift LIHEAP funds around.
They have already asked Congress to increase LIHEAP funding, but the odds are against them.
President Obama requested an 18 percent decrease in LIHEAP funding in his fiscal 2015 budget, something Republicans will support or seek to increase. Obama’s proposal would cut available LIHEAP funds to $2.8 billion next year from $3.4 billion this year.