State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Administration's food stamps decision nets praise from advocates & grocers

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 6, 2014 1:31 PM

Anti-hunger groups and trade groups are applauding the Corbett administration's decision to prevent a change in federal policy from cutting food stamps for mostly seniors and people with disabilities.

The administration has not formally announced the change in policy, but Kait Gillis, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Welfare, confirmed the change to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The farm bill signed last month ended a practice of allowing a small amount of heating assistance to boost what some people received in food stamps.

Under the administration's new directive, individuals whose heating and food assistance was coordinated to result in a higher level of food assistance will not see a cut to their food stamps.

"So now, that senior will receive a $20 LIHEAP benefit," said Julie Zaebst, policy director for the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, referring to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

"And her SNAP benefits will remain at the level that they are currently. She will not see a cut of $65 or more per month in her SNAP benefits," Zaebst said. SNAP is short for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal initiative providing food stamps.

Zaebst said the decision reflects "a change in tone" from the state Department of Public Welfare under its current secretary, Bev Mackereth, appointed a year ago by Governor Corbett.

"I understand that they made a close assessment of the costs and benefits for Pennsylvania and came to the conclusion that this was right for the state, right for seniors in our state, and also right for food pantries in our state that otherwise would have been scrambling to provide food to these people who were newly in need," Zaebst said.

Also commending the administration's decision Thursday was the grocery store lobby, the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association.

The change will preserve $300 million in food assistance for 400,000 low-income households, according to the administration.

Only federal funding for LIHEAP, Pennsylvania's heating assistance program, is needed to make the change to preserve food stamps at current levels for certain recipients. Gillis, the DPW spokeswoman, said the administration doesn't expect the change to cause a shortfall in LIHEAP funding.

"We have a reserve of money at the end of the year," Gillis said, adding that it helps begin the heating assistance program with the first arrival of cold weather, even if federal funding is slow in coming. "We do not foresee an impact for LIHEAP recipients at all."

Published in State House Sound Bites

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