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Advocates: Don’t Cut “Heat and Eat” Program

PHOTO: Sherrie Tussler
PHOTO: Sherrie Tussler
December 3, 2012

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - Even though our Wisconsin winter is off to another mild start, it gets plenty cold at night. For people who sometimes have to choose between paying for heat or paying for food, winter is a very tough time of year. Congress is considering billions of dollars in cuts to a part of the Farm Bill known as "Heat and Eat," which allows states to coordinate food and energy assistance programs.

The executive director of the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C., Jim Weill, says it is a poor way to cut the cost of the Farm Bill.

"We can't solve the problem by harming the neediest people in the country, whether that's cutting food stamps or Medicaid or low-income home energy help - or any of the other programs, that aren't funded well enough to begin with."

Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force, Milwaukee, says the proposed cuts would be devastating to lower income Wisconsinites. The Heat and Eat program is part of what the Federal government calls "SNAP" - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - which in Wisconsin is called Food Share.

"If we were to remove Food Share through the Farm Bill, or we were to make cuts to the Food Share program, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites would go without a Federal benefit that they currently are able to use to put food on the table. Those people would be hungry in record numbers."

Tussler says cuts to the program, which is already underfunded, would mean food pantries all over Wisconsin would run out of food.

Hunger is something that's often hard to see, but it's a huge problem in Wisconsin, she says.

"One in eight Wisconsin families is using that Food Share program. That's how they're making it right now, when their jobs don't sustain them, when they don't make enough money to be able to pay either their rent or their mortgage, and their utility bill, and still have something left to put food on the table."

Weill says these are real cuts with real consequences, which will mean lost meals, lost food, averaging about $90 a month for half a million households in the U.S.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI