The SNAP program right now has a major loophole that has been dubbed “heat and eat.” Food stamps users get their monthly allotment calculated in a number of ways, one of which is how much they pay for utilities like heating. However, some recipients don’t actually pay for utilities, as their rent bundles them. To amend that, SNAP rules have allowed for those people to use a payment from the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) instead of writing in a figure where the utility bill usually goes.
Two things jump out right away, depending on which way you look at it. For food stamps recipients—especially those who don’t pay extra for utilities—it’s a fantastic way for them to both save their own money and get extra federal income for food.
But for opponents to the SNAP program, it’s a loophole that needs to be closed because it creates a imbalance between food stamps users. If two people are earning $1,000/month and each pays $500 for rent but one has to pay $50/month for utilities and the other doesn’t, the second person has an “extra” $50 in their pocket to put towards getting ahead.
One solution has been proposed in Congress. With up to 16 states using the “heat and eat” policy, residents, in turn, pay $1 that boosts SNAP benefits. A house bill made the baseline $20 instead of $1, covering the cost to the tune of an $8.7 billion in savings. This way, people who don’t qualify for “heat and eat”—and have to pay for utilities out of their own pocket—won’t be excluded from qualifying for SNAP. And to cut off the loophole, they’d have to meet the new LIHEAP thresholds to qualify for more benefits than constitute the baseline.
While food stamps users who qualify for “heat and eat” can understandably not be very pleased with this new proposal, it does seem like a solution that only adds and doesn’t cancel. No families would lose basic eligibility, and only 4% of all SNAP families would see a benefit reduction.
And despite this not being an ideal solution, it is one that thinks long-term and funnels more money towards low-income programs.
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