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One of the biggest food stamps loopholes as of late is the “Heat and Eat” policy, which affects SNAP recipients based on rent and utilities. The recent Farm Bill that was passed addressed “Heat and Eat”, but critics are still speaking out about it. Here’s why.

Heat and Eat


Here’s a quick rundown of how “Heat and Eat” works:

  • Food stamps recipients who pay rent either pay separately for utilities or they don’t
  • Those who do get a bit of extra money called the Standard Utility Allowance
  • For those whose utilities are included in rent and don’t receive a SUA, they get a stipend nicknamed “Heat and Eat” and eligibility for discount utility and telephone rates
  • The “Heat and Eat” policy helps SNAP recipients qualify for more food stamps benefits

Sometimes, as in the state of Connecticut, the amount given under “Heat and Eat” is as little as $1 with the gesture meant to boost food stamps assistance in other areas. And sometimes, households get an average of about $20 each week to help out with other expenses.

Criticism to Heat and Eat


The biggest point made about “Heat and Eat” is that the program gives money to people who don’t pay for utilities along with their rent. The reasoning follows that if they can keep X of money in their wallets each month that would normally go toward utilities, then they should be using that money towards groceries or other benefits doled out by SNAP.

Another criticism of “Heat and Eat” is that it amounts to millions of dollars spent annually that could go elsewhere. An amount as little as $1 per household per year still adds up to a lot, and critics argue that not only can the money can be spent far more efficiently than it is, but that it also doesn’t do much to motivate food stamps recipients to live financially independently.

Changes


The new Farm Bill, which the Senate is expected to vote on today, addresses the “Heat and Eat” provision by setting the new threshold at $10 instead of $1, which means that SNAP recipients under this figure won’t get extra assistance. Along with tightening the requirements on “Heat and Eat”, other amendments to food stamps are expected to save about $800 million each year. But is this a good idea? Or will it do more harm than good?

Final Notes


At first glance, raising the “Heat and Eat” plateau seems like a good idea. Nobody gets cut off from SNAP benefits if they’re already receiving them, and recipients who have utilities packaged with rent are reasoned to proportionally have a similar amount of money coming out of their pockets as those who don’t. However, digging beneath the surface shows that access to the extra benefits afforded by “Heat and Eat” are not so easy to obtain on food stamps, even with the extra money saved by not having to pay for utilities.

The new “Heat and Eat” policy means that food stamps recipients will lose about $25 each month which, on the surface, doesn’t seem like a lot. But it can often make the difference between being able to buy milk for kids and not, putting meat—a source of protein—on the table and not, or being forced to buy “garbage” foods (processed or high in sugars and fats) and not.

Only time will tell if the new “Heat and Eat” policy had benefited or detracted from the program overall, but immediately, it’s a tough pill to swallow.

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