In response to changes in federal law through the Farm Bill, which was recently signed by President Obama, Governor Lincoln D. Chafee announced today that Rhode Island would continue using a provision, commonly referred to as "heat and eat," in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Continuation of the program will allow Rhode Island to preserve nearly $69 million in SNAP benefits annually, or an average of $83 per month for those affected households in Rhode Island.
"By taking advantage of 'heat and eat,' Rhode Island is ensuring that our state's most vulnerable residents such as the elderly and disabled citizens continue to benefit from the SNAP program," Governor Chafee said. "The advantage of this provision is clear, and why I have instructed state government to intercede on behalf of Rhode Islanders who will be affected by the cuts at the federal level."
Rhode Island has provided 'heat and eat' since 2008. According to SNAP, a Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) can be counted as part of a household's expenses in the calculation of the SNAP benefit. A LIHEAP grant to SNAP recipients in certain housing situations such as rentals for the elderly and disabled residents has enabled them to receive the SUA and, thus, a higher SNAP allowance.
Until enactment of the new Farm Bill, states were able to fund a minimal LIHEAP grant, and Rhode Island has been supplying $1 to approximately 69,000 eligible SNAP households. The new federal law requires that states must issue a LIHEAP grant of at least $20.01 to eligible SNAP recipients.
"In states that do not continue this program, households will lose a sizable amount of SNAP benefits and that would also negatively impact the Rhode Island economy," Steven M. Costantino, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said. "Governor Chafee's decision will preserve these important federal funds for Rhode Island."
Since the average benefit increase for households due to the use of the SUA is $83 per month in Rhode Island, if affected households are issued $20.01 in a LIHEAP grant and given the SUA because of the provision, an additional $5.72 million of SNAP benefits will come to Rhode Island monthly. Annually, our state would receive approximately $69 million in additional SNAP benefits by issuing $1.38 million in LIHEAP funds.
"Seventeen percent of Rhode Island households rely on SNAP benefits to keep food on the table," noted Sandra M. Powell, Director of the Department of Human Services, which administers both the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. "Making a commitment to the 'heat and eat' program lends that much more food security to Rhode Island's low-income households. The influx of these SNAP benefits is healthy for our households and Rhode Island's economy."
Rhode Island's Congressional delegation has closely monitored the progress of the Farm Bill through the legislative process. They are aware of the changes to the provision.
"These are very difficult economic times and the state made a commendable decision to ensure that the most vulnerable families will continue to have access to vital heating and nutrition assistance. Instead of cutting aid to the poorest Americans, Congress should work together to improve our economy, create jobs, and address the root causes of poverty and hunger," U.S. Senator Jack Reed said.
"I'm glad that Governor Chafee has chosen to maintain the state's commitment to this vital program for low-income Rhode Islanders," U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said. "Keeping this funding available for nutrition assistance will help Rhode Island families and prevent a hit to our economy. It's a clear win-win."
"I have been a vehement opponent of cuts to the SNAP program, so I am pleased that Governor Chafee is taking steps to preserve these crucial benefits for Rhode Islanders," Congressman Jim Langevin said. "No American should have to choose between heating their home and feeding their family, and the continuation of the 'heat and eat' program will help ensure that no one in Rhode Island has to."
"No family should have to choose between a nutritious meal or a warm home," Congressman David Cicilline said. "I am very pleased Governor Chafee is moving forward to prevent cuts in food aid for Rhode Island families and seniors receiving home heating assistance, and I will continue to work to ensure Congress does more to protect the most vulnerable among us."