End of “Heat and Eat” loophole means less aid for Michigan families
By Caitlin Leroux
This October, low-income Michigan families will receive a 15 percent cut to their food aid. This affects about 150,000 people and comes at a reduction of about $76 per family of four who receive food stamps. This is due to the “Heat and Eat” program being altered, and cuts to the food assistance program started being introduced gradually on Oct. 1.
The federal farm bill, nicknamed “heat and eat,” gives families who live in northern states, such as Michigan, New Jersey and New Hampshire, a greater amount of federal aid, so that they can combat high heating bills. According to the Detroit News, about 20 percent of people receiving assistance for heat do not actually use it for heating bills, causing Michigan Human Service officials to decide against the extra expenditure.
The “Heat and Eat” assistance was a practice where many states were using a loophole to give extra food assistance to families who received as little as $1 a year in federal energy aid, according to the Michigan Department of Human Services. This money was given to families even if they had no heating costs, as in the case for those living in rentals or apartments. With the federal government’s new restrictions, families must be getting at least $21 per household for heating costs if they are receiving aid. Michigan officials have decided against this; as it would be an extra $8 million cost to the state per year. This payment would end up cutting into families that actually need the heating assistance, instead of helping them.
“We said we can’t justify the $21 per household for those who do not have heating costs, especially after the tough winter we had last year,” said Bob Wheaton, a representative of the Michigan Department of Human Services said to the Detroit Free Press.
Some states, mostly with Democratic governors, are fighting for the prevention of these cuts, arguing that they are following the law and giving assistance to their poorest residents. The states claim to be evading the issue by replacing the budget of these programs with funding from the general budget.
The Michigan League for Public Policy challenges the issue of the initial $8 million costs by claiming that the investment of the money would end up generating about $250 million in food assistance to families, enabling them to spend it at local grocery stores, and thus, bolstering the economy in Michigan.
Some Schoolcraft students feel that the cuts are unreasonable, especially to families.
“A lot of people don’t even have enough money to feed their children. It’s not fair to them,” said Chris McCarthy, Schoolcraft College student.
For local students, the food stamp cuts could mean an increased need for food assistance from local facilities such as Gleaner’s Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan and the Schoolcraft Food Pantry. According to the Schoolcraft Food Drive in 2011, 19 percent of Michigan children were living in poverty, and enrollment in food assistance has increased within recent years. Likewise, food distribution by Gleaner’s Food Bank has increased by 43 percent in the past four years. This is likely to increase again with less state aid available.These cuts will affect not only Michigan, but also New Jersey, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.