The omnibus Farm Bill just passed by Congress will hurt the food stamps program. The bill includes $8.6 billion in cuts over the next 10 years in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. U.S. House Republicans had initially sought $40 billion in reductions.
For all practical purposes, the new bill eliminates what is known as the "heat and eat" program in northern states. It requires 17 states to come up with additional monies to fund food stamps for people who are eligible for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program.
Only Vermont has said it will consider making up the difference in fiscal year 2015.
Marissa Parisi, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont, says if the state doesn't step up, about 21,000 families would lose food stamps benefits worth $90 a month on average.
The total loss, mainly to seniors and the disabled, amounts to about $1.8 million per month in food purchasing power that would be spent in Vermont, according to John Sayles, executive director of the Vermont Foodbank.
Gov. Peter Shumlin has assured Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that he will work with the Legislature to prevent cuts to the "heat and eat" program.
The cost to cover the difference would be roughly $400,000 a year, Parisi says, or about $20 per household. The "heat and eat" program currently costs the state about $3 to $5 per person for a total cost of $75,000, which leverages about $6 million in food for families, she says.