March 16, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the economic struggles of those living in poverty in Maryland, many of whom were already being forced to make difficult choices between buying food and paying household expenses.

Even before the shutdown, stagnating wages and increasing food prices made hunger a problem for more and more households. Budgeting for food is only one piece of the puzzle that many households and individuals must balance among housing expenses, utility costs, care for children or adults, and more. The Heat and Eat Program would help alleviate an individual’s or family’s financial burden by providing a way for people to meet more than one essential need.

The Heat and Eat Program provides a Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefit to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households that pay utility costs through their rent and are not currently receiving energy assistance.

The program is currently used in 10 states and the District of Columbia. SNAP plays a critical role in reducing hunger, malnutrition, and poverty, and improving family security, child and adult health, employment, and other outcomes.

The program functions by directing an annual LIHEAP benefit to eligible households, which then triggers a recalculation of SNAP benefits, leading to an increase in their monthly benefit. An estimated 32,000 Marylanders could see a monthly increase of $50–$60 in SNAP benefits if Heat and Eat is implemented, according to the Maryland Department of Human Services.

Currently, SNAP emergency allotments provide recipients with a significant boost to their monthly benefit; however, it is still tied to Maryland’s state of emergency and is contingent upon the availability of funding and ongoing need. The emergency allotment addresses temporary food needs to households in order to bring all households up to the maximum benefit due to pandemic related economic conditions. Once the health emergency is lifted, many households will immediately revert back to lowered benefit amounts. 

Delegate Lorig Charkoudian (District 20) and Senator Cory McCray (District 45) have introduced legislation for the Heat and Eat Program in Maryland (HB101 and SB913), signaling that Maryland lawmakers understand the long-term impacts of the pandemic and that there will need to be measures in place to ensure families and individuals can continue to purchase food for their home. This legislation has received a wide range of support across the state, including from the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, the Montgomery County Food Council, and AARP Maryland.

The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for years to come and SNAP and the Heat and Eat Program will continue to be vital for families across Maryland.