Congress passed a new Farm Bill in February, which included an estimated $8.6 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps).
The SNAP cut included in the Farm Bill comes from a change to the Heat & Eat program, a linkage between SNAP and the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The cut affects 15 states (including Maine) plus the District of Columbia.
In the past, SNAP participants who qualify for any amount of LIHEAP assistance have been able to claim the Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) on their SNAP application, streamlining the application process and qualifying them for a higher benefit amount. Heat & Eat states have provided nominal LIHEAP payments (as low as $1/year) to some residents who might not otherwise receive it because they have heating costs built into their rent, thereby qualifying them for a higher amount of food aid.
The new Farm Bill makes a change to the Heat & Eat program, requiring SNAP participants to receive at least $20 in LIHEAP assistance in order to claim the SUA and receive the higher SNAP benefit amount.
Many states impacted by this change, including Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, have decided to pay out the higher LIHEAP amount to participants to ensure they continue to receive the SNAP benefits they need.
Maine has not yet determined how it will implement the Heat & Eat program change. The vast majority of SNAP participants impacted by this policy in Maine are elderly and disabled persons.
If Maine chooses to extend higher LIHEAP payments to participants to allow them to claim the SUA on their SNAP applications, this could take approximately $100,000 in LIHEAP funds (which come to the state via a federal block grant). This expenditure would secure up to $7 million in SNAP benefits (also federally funded), which low-income Mainers use to purchase groceries in their local communities.
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