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Defending “Heat & Eat” in Massachusetts

PHOTO: Many struggling Americans face an impossible choice between paying for food or paying for energy.
PHOTO: Many struggling Americans face an impossible choice between paying for food or paying for energy.
December 3, 2012

BOSTON - Many struggling Americans face an impossible choice between paying for food or paying for energy, and some in Washington are considering making it harder, according to anti-hunger advocates. Through "Heat and Eat" policies, many states, including Massachusetts, coordinate SNAP (food stamps) and the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP.

Georgia Katsoulomitis of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute says proposed Farm and Agriculture bills in Congress and the "fiscal cliff" negotiations could deprive thousands of Bay Staters.

"If you cut safety-net programs like SNAP, you are only putting people in poverty in greater poverty, and that is penny-wise and pound-foolish."

She estimates more than 100,000 households would be affected, many of them housing the elderly and disabled. These are low-income people who can't survive on the minimum $16 SNAP benefit per month. That may be the amount they are left with if states lose the Heat and Eat option.

Katsoulomitis says this is not the time for Washington to cut spending on such programs.

"People that live in poverty live on a very, very thin margin, particularly in this economy. Cutting $20 or $80 may not sound like a lot of money to me and you, but this makes a tremendous difference to a low-income family."

In Washington, Jim Weill of the Food Research and Action Center is hoping a "hands off SNAP" trend prevails.

"Essentially, the serious bipartisan proposals that have been floated so far, all of those left food stamps alone. And we're certainly working for and hoping that the eventual results here will do the same."

Katsoulomitis acknowledges the impulse to balance the nation's budget.

"We all recognize that that we're facing a deficit. However, these are not the programs to target. These programs are highly efficient and there's a very, very low rate of fraud and abuse."

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA