We are happy to announce that yesterday, thanks to the work of Representative Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), the Michigan House Appropriations Committee unanimously voted to include $3.2 million in the state budget to restore $138 million in federal food assistance benefits for approximately 150,000 low-income households. These individuals’ benefits were reduced by an average of $76 per month due to changes in the “heat and eat” policy. Many of these households include elderly and disabled individuals.
The Michigan League for Public Policy has been working with legislators and state officials to remedy this issue for several years. It was eighteen months ago that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services declined to pony up some state money in order to continue federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for many Michigan residents. In 2014, Congress increased the amount from $1 to $21 that states would need to spend on heating assistance for certain households in order for them to receive higher food support benefits, saying the states in the “heat and eat” program were exploiting a loophole to increase some households’ food assistance by paying only $1 in heating assistance to those households.
Although 12 of the 16 “heat and eat” states agreed to pay the higher amount in order to continue drawing down the federal dollars, Michigan was one of four states that chose to leave the federal money on the table. Rep. Irwin’s amendment funds and requires the state to spend the $21 per household to increase the SNAP benefits.
While some have argued that it is bad policy to use a loophole to increase food assistance benefits for certain low-income households, the League supports doing so because, simply put, SNAP benefits are too low. As long as Congress stalls in updating food assistance benefits to reflect the real cost of nutritious food for a family, states are justified in filling the gap in any way possible. As a moral issue, the well-being of vulnerable Michigan residents must take priority over “purity of policy.”
Fortunately, lawmakers from both parties agree, as shown by the unanimous vote on the House Appropriations Committee supporting the Irwin budget amendment. The Senate Appropriations Committee, on the other hand, has not added the money for “heat and eat.” The next step is to convince the other lawmakers in the Michigan Legislature to support the Irwin amendment. We urge readers to call their representative and senator to urge them to support adding $3.2 million for “heat and eat” when it comes to a vote on the floor of their respective chambers.
— Peter Ruark