Governors in over half a dozen states have found a way to fully fund their food stamp programs despite the massive cuts included in the farm bill President Obama signed into law in February. The maneuver prompted a call from Republican leaders – alleged champions of states’ rights – to pass further legislation to stop the states from halting the more than $8 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
House Speaker John Boehner, in typical hyperbolic form, decried the move by states like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Montana, and New York to usurp cuts pushed by congressional Republicans at the federal level. The state governments were able to protect their resident’s benefits by increasing payments from energy assistance programs to recipients of SNAP.
Under SNAP, low-income families can receive additional food benefits if they also receive funding under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). States with democratic governors seeking to defy the draconian cuts are offering nominal annual LIHEAP payments in order to trigger the increase in SNAP, prompting Boehner to claim “states have found ways to cheat, once again, at signing people up for food stamps.” He added, “I would hope that the house would act to try to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing.”
The state efforts are not just the work of democratic governors. Conservative Republican Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania was one of the first to embrace the LIHEAP option to continue feeding his states’ poor – protecting assistance for 400,000 low-income Pennsylvanian families set to feel the sting of the cuts.
One main author of the farm bill, Oklahoma’s Representative Frank Lucas threatened congressional retaliation in response to gubernatorial intransigence. Politico reports Lucas stated, “these governors now will cause a new set of hearings, a new set of bills, a new set of appropriations amendments.” He apparently followed with an allusion to the governors efforts to keep food on their constituents’ plates as mining the US treasury.
It’s encouraging to see governors standing up to Washington Republican’s continued war on the poor, especially in the face of the blustering of the likes of Lucas and Boehner. With any luck, their courageous stance will galvanize members of Congress who are in a position to block any attempts to stop the use of LIHEAP to fully fund state food stamp programs, and will build momentum for a counterattack from supporters of a robust and just social safety net.
(c) Andrew Fitzgerald, 2014