Back in February of this year, Dr. Katie Maddox brought to our attention the Farm Bill (known officially as the Agricultural Act of 2014) and its proposed reduction of 8.6 billion dollars in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget. At the time, the Farm Bill had been passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and was pending approval by Senate. Before the revised bill went to Senate, the AAP issued a statement opposing the proposed cuts to the SNAP program (1).
Since Dr. Maddox wrote, the bill was passed by the Senate on February 4, 2014, and then signed by President Obama shortly thereafter on February 7, 2014. How will this bill affect those who benefit from SNAP? The final version of this bill does not feature the same widespread change in eligibility criteria that older versions of the bill proposed. However, it does still make some alterations in effort to decrease the overall budget. These changes include (2, 3):
Closing the “heat-and-eat” loophole that artificially increases benefit levels when states provide nominal LIHEAP assistance (more detail below)
Establishing a pilot program to engage able-bodied adults in mandatory work programs
Prohibits USDA from advertising SNAP
Removes benefits for illegal immigrants, lottery winters, traditional college students
Prohibits beneficiaries to benefit from SNAP in multiple states
Demands outcomes from existing training and education programs
Eliminates marijuana as an allowable medical expense
Allows states to pursue retailer fraud
Increases assistance for food banks
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the main benefit cut that results in the 8.6 billion reduction in the overall SNAP budget is the provision that 17 states had been using to streamline paperwork for SNAP by qualifying recipients of assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) with the assumption that the family is paying for utilities (which would thereby qualify them for more SNAP benefits) (4). This is what is sometimes referred to as “heat and eat” and has been considered by some as a loophole or weakness in the law surrounding these assistance programs. It is estimated that this would affect 850,000 households by an average of $90 a month.
In the meantime, the AAP continues to support the efficacy of the SNAP program. Additionally, the official academic journal of the AAP, Pediatrics, recently published a study surveying 3000 households, showing that children in households participating in SNAP for 6 months experienced improvements in food security (5).
As the Agricultural Act of 2014 is now in effect, the aforementioned changes to SNAP are currently being implemented. One of the ways is through redefining standards for SNAP bonuses. . The Food and Nutrition service is soliciting ideas for performance criteria and standards for improvement as states are now called to reinvest SNAP bonuses into the SNAP program. Thus far, three comments have been received, and the comment period closes July 23, 2014. Comments can be reviewed and submitted here: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FNS-2014-0018-0001.
Carmelle Tsai, MD
More detail on the specifics on how the SNAP provisions in the Agricultural Act of 2014 will play out can be found here: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/SNAP%20Provisions%20of%20the%20Agricultural%20Act%20of%202014%20-%20Implementing%20Memo.pdf
The full Agricultural Act of 2014 can be found here: