Governor Jay Inslee on Thursday announced steps to preserve Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for approximately 200,000 households in Washington. The changes will prevent the loss of nearly $70 million in federal SNAP benefits resulting from policy changes in a new Farm Bill passed by Congress.
“Governor Inslee’s decision to protect Washington families from food stamp cuts is a smart and principled decision–and it is the right thing to do by our kids. Hungry kids can’t learn. Food stamps are our number-one defense against childhood hunger,” said Jon Gould, Deputy Director of the Children’s Alliance.
A household’s SNAP benefits are calculated by factoring in a household’s eligibility for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The new Farm Bill made changes to the “Heat and Eat” option, which now requires states to provide a household $20 in LIHEAP assistance to maximize SNAP benefits. The prior law required that Washington only provide $1. Under the modified program, the Department of Social and Health Services will work with the Department of Commerce to provide $20 of LIHEAP assistance to eligible households, ensuring low-income families will remain eligible for up to $90 a month of SNAP benefits.
Washington joins seven other states in adopting this approach. This will not only help maintain economic stability for vulnerable families but for businesses in Washington, as the USDA estimates that every SNAP dollar spent generates about $2 in economic activity.
“Obviously, the loss of tens of millions of dollars aimed at feeding hungry families is not acceptable. These families have already suffered from significant reductions in the help they receive, and this $90 a month is the only way many families and seniors are able to put any food on their table. That is why my office brought together leaders from our state agencies and the community to figure out a compromise,” said Governor Inslee.
“Significant changes to the Heat and Eat option required some difficult choices for our state,” said Brian Bonlender, Director of the Washington State Department of Commerce. “Working together with our partners at DSHS, we evaluated every option and concluded that this solution is the best way to help more families fill the gap in their monthly food budget, while still providing needed financial assistance with heating bills.”
SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) is a fully federally-funded food benefit program administered by the Department of Social and Health Services on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). LIHEAP is also fully federally-funded and is administered by the Department of Commerce. Together, the programs help nearly one in seven residents throughout the state meet their most basic needs.
DSHS is a national leader in efficient SNAP administration. It was among the first states to examine how human services are delivered and to make changes to streamline operations while maintaining excellent services to clients. Washington’s benefits accuracy rate is more than 98 percent.
“Under Governor Inslee and DSHS Secretary Kevin W. Quigley’s leadership, we were able to find a solution that does not force some of the most vulnerable families in Washington state, including elderly and disabled individuals, to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children,” said David Stillman, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services’ Economic Services Administration. “This is an important effort to ensure people are safe, healthy and supported and taxpayer resources are safeguarded.”
The state will now ask all SNAP applicants for proof of utility payments. In cases where clients have no separate utility bills, like low-income senior citizens whose rent includes utilities, clients will be enrolled in the LIHEAP program and given $20 of heating benefit. This will also qualify them for the highest utility deduction, thereby preserving higher SNAP benefits.