Yesterday, Oregon's John Kitzhaber became the latest governor to block cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program included in the newly passed farm bill. Like his counterparts in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Montana, the Democrat is bolstering Oregon’s heating subsidy program to protect 141,000 residents from having their food stamps cut.
Here's how it works:
The majority of the $8 billion Congress hoped to cut from the farm bill over the coming decade was focused on just 4 percent of recipients—about 850,000 households in 17 states. In Oregon and other affected states, certain households are currently eligible for a higher level of SNAP benefits if they receive as little as $1 in heating subsidies through the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program, which is administered by the states. The farm bill purports to close this so-called loophole—a designation that gets antihunger advocates steamed—by raising the minimum LIHEAP payment a household must receive to $20 in order to qualify for the boost in food stamps.
The Congressional Budget Office noted that states could work around the cuts by increasing LIHEAP payments, which is exactly what the six governors (so far) have done. More are likely to join them: California, Wisconsin, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., are each considering similar measures.
By going around the federal law, these governors are infuriating some in Congress, including a number of members who tend to be fierce champions of “states’ rights.”
“Since the passage of the farm bill, states have found ways to cheat, once again, on signing up people for food stamps,” House Speaker John Boehner said to reporters on Thursday. “And so I would hope that the House would act to try to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing.”
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told Politico, “We can’t have the governors of these states gaming the system and thumbing their noses at the United States Congress,” the very type of behavior that worshipers of John C. Calhoun and Tea Party politicians tend to both encourage and applaud in just about every other situation (that doesn’t have to do with laying hens).
Yet the promised $8 billion cut to food stamp spending continues to erode, state by state.