News & Politics

John Boehner: States That Give Food Aid to Neediest Are 'Cheating'

Eight states have found a way around $8.5 billion cuts in food stamps, and Republicans are livid.

When the farm bill passed through Congress earlier this year, Republicans were sure it would lead to savings by slashing $8.5 billion to food and heat assistance for the nation's most vulnerable--low income families, children, the elderly, and the disabled.

Now, at least eight states have found a loophole that allows them to continue providing help to their citizens--and Republicans are livid. 

To understand the loophole, you first need to understand the nature of the cuts. Before the passage of the farm bill, states participated in a heat-and-eat program whereby the amount of food stamp aid was increased if recipients also received state heating assistance. The amount in dollars of heating assistance did not have any bearing on whether one was entitled to increased food stamp aid; so long as states provided at least $1 in heating assistance to a recipient, that person was entitled to extra food stamp benefits.

Republicans thought they found a way to close that loophole by raising the minimum amount of heat assistance states must provide to $20. They have been dismayed to find, however, that there do exist some elected officials who possess a modicum of compassion for their constituents.  

State governments in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oregon, Massachusetts, Vermont, Montana and Pennsylvania have all pledged to increase heat assistance to $20 amid a brutal winter, so that the extra food benefits could still be doled out to the neediest. House Speaker John Boehner called the actions by state governors "cheating" and "fraud."

“Governors who choose to undermine the bipartisan reforms in the farm bill are putting those who depend on the home heating program at risk, and taking money out of every American taxpayer’s pocket,” Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman told The Washington Post.  

Without the change, tens of thousands of families of four stand to lose about $36 every month. It is unlikely that the extra heating assistance will cost the states much more money, because their money comes in the form of yearly federal block grants that usually leave most states with extra money anyway. 

If all the states participated in the loophole, all $8.5 billion in intended savings would likely evaporate, and lawmakers would have to find another part of the beast from which to cut fat. Perhaps they could start by limiting the billions in subsidies, loans and grants handed out to military contractors, oil corporations and banks


Aaron Cantú is an investigator for the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and an independent journalist based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @aaronmiguel_
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