We are thrilled at the news that Governor Corbett has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a move that will keep food on the table for hundreds of thousands of struggling Pennsylvanians.
A PA Department of Public Welfare (DPW) spokeswoman announced on Wednesday that they will find an alternate source of funding to make up for Federal Farm Bill cuts to spending on “heat and eat”.
DPW says the $8 million in supplemental federal energy assistance that the state will put toward heat and eat would preserve $300 million in food aid for up to 400,000 families statewide. Under the new Farm Bill, those families would have seen their food stamp benefits decrease by $65/month on average.
The U.S. Farm Bill was finally passed by Congress in February, more than a year past its original deadline. Those months were filled with growing anger and frustration as anti-hunger advocates watched far-right members of the U.S. House call for deeper and deeper SNAP/food stamp cuts and humiliating measures (drug tests, work requirements for the long-term unemployed) for food stamp recipients, the overwhelming majority of whom are elderly, disabled, children, or the working poor.
The final $8 billion in heat and eat cuts came on top of cross-the-board cuts to food stamps in November for all food stamp recipients – adults and children – who saw their monthly benefit permanently reduced. This was due to the expiration of stimulus funding; Congress did not vote to block these cuts.
Just Harvest worked with its allies during this time to mobilize in this federal battle between right and wrong: on the one side, legislators trying to protect social safety net benefits for those still affected by the nation’s recent economic collapse; on the other, those seeking to punish the poor for their poverty, and roll back government policy 80 years to the days of Herbert Hoover.
You joined us and took action, time and time again. And it worked.
The state’s announcement comes after anti-hunger advocates spent months lobbying and attending meetings with high-ranking officials in the Corbett administration. Leading this effort since the final passage of the Farm Bill in early February were the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.
Many were surprised to hear the plan as it marks a clear departure from prior administration policy measures.
Within his first months in office, Gov. Corbett re-instituted a food stamp asset test to make it harder for the eligible working poor to receive nutrition assistance. He and state Republican lawmakers have consistently underfunded DPW, severely impairing its ability to deliver critical services and administer desperately needed federal and state benefits.
Pennsylvania is one of 15 states (plus D.C.) that use heat and eat, and follows New York and Connecticut in announcing state work-arounds to preserve food stamp benefit levels.
The heat-and-eat provision helps maximize food stamp benefits for low-income Pennsylvanians whose utility costs are part of their rent, which otherwise would hurt their ability to demonstrate their eligibility for federal nutrition assistance. This is typical of those who live in low-income housing, usually the elderly and disabled.
Whether the state recognized that pushing those individuals to further desperation and poverty was just cruel, or that protecting them is a wiser investment of public resources – either way, this a clear win for low-income Pennsylvanians and for all taxpayers as well.