Heat factor: Pennsylvania acts to restore food stamp benefits

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Eliminating loopholes sounds like a good idea, but one that Congress closed in the federal farm bill would have choked off vital food assistance for thousands of low-income Pennsylvanians.

Thankfully, the Republican Corbett administration took a surprising step by following the lead of some Democratic governors and preserving $300 million in food aid for as many as 400,000 families statewide.

The farm bill cut $8.6 billion in food stamps over the next decade — itself a shameful compromise made necessary by Republican insistence — by changing the eligibility requirements for recipients. One of the changes was to a provision known as “heat and eat,” which allowed households that receive home heating assistance to get a larger food stamp benefit. The idea is that families should not be forced to choose between heating their homes or eating.

Previously, recipients who received as little as one penny in heat aid automatically qualified for the food stamp supplement. The new law changed the limit and only those who qualify for more than $20 in heating assistance can get the additional food stamps. If states want to supplement food stamps for their residents, they must put more dollars into heating assistance per family.

The Corbett administration will do just that by using $8 million in federal energy assistance to increase home heating payments, a move that will trigger the supplemental food stamp payments. It sounds like a shell game, but this one has serious consequences for low-income Pennsylvanians. Democratic governors in Connecticut and New York are using the same means to help their constituents.

It is good news for low-income Pennsylvania families that the Corbett administration did not let politics blind it to a way around this obstacle created by a less-than-optimal farm bill. And it probably doesn’t hurt to have this consumer-friendly win in Tom Corbett’s column during an election year.

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