Changing ‘heat and eat’ benefit threatens food aid in Pa., N.J.

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    Congress is finally approaching a deal on the country’s farm bill, and lawmakers are considering cutting the food stamps program in a way that would be felt throughout the region.

    The possible reductions involve a part of the law that few understand. In more than a dozen states, including Pennsylvania, low-income families that are eligible for government aid for their utility bills also automatically qualify for additional food stamp benefits.

    Lawmakers may tweak the “heat-and-eat” arrangement so that households must receive $20 in heating assistance before automatically qualifying for more food stamp benefits, according to media reports. Now, the threshold is as low as $1.

    Advocates for the poor said that under the proposal, 175,000 households in Pennsylvania would lose an average of $65 in food stamp benefits each month.

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    New Jersey also utilizes the “heat-and-eat” arrangement.

    Bill Clark, president of the hunger relief organization Philabundance, said the “heat and eat” setup makes it easier for low-income families to get the public benefits they need.

    “It was just a more administratively efficient way of finding people who really needed the help, so it’s possible that this isn’t going to save anybody anything,” he said. “In fact, it may cost administratively more.”

    Proponents said the change would eliminate a loophole that states take advantage of at the expense of taxpayers.

    “It’s something that was never intended by the law,” said Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “It should be removed in order to restore integrity to the program, and to ensure that resources are being directed to the most in need.”

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