November 14, 2019

By Ellen Vollinger, Legal/Food Stamp Director, and Heather Hartline-Grafton, Senior Researcher in Nutrition Policy and Community Health

Winter weather has started hitting many northern states early this year, requiring households to allocate more of their resources for heating their homes. SNAP and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) are two of the resources that help low-income households afford to “heat and eat” during winter. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has proposed a rule that will make SNAP less responsive to those needs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposes to apply a less adequate assessment of SNAP households’ utility costs that, in turn, would, in many states, lower substantially the SNAP benefit amounts for which they qualify.  In fact, USDA’s proposed changes to state SNAP Standard Utility Allowances (SUA) would cut SNAP food benefits nationally by $4.5 billion over five years.

By reducing SNAP benefits, the USDA proposed rule will only exacerbate the “heat or eat” dilemma too many people face. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, in 2015  “about 1 in 5 households reported reducing or forgoing necessities, such as food and medicine, to pay an energy bill.”

To address the “heat or eat” dilemma, our policymakers should be improving the already too low SNAP benefit amounts, not cutting them. An analysis by FRAC summarizes the research findings that make the case for more adequate SNAP benefits.

Even as the Trump administration would move in the wrong direction, efforts to boost SNAP benefits are gaining traction. Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) and 113 House colleagues are sponsoring a bill (H.R. 1368) that would make SNAP benefit amounts more adequate. Among other things, H.R. 1368 would replace the inadequate Thrifty Food Plan as the basis for SNAP benefits with the Low-Cost Food Plan; and allow households with children to have more of their utilities and other shelter costs taken into account for purposes of computing their SNAP allotment amounts.

You can take three actions now to help ensure that policymakers choose the right path and help SNAP households afford to “heat and eat:”

  1. Submit a comment against the recent SUA proposal by the Trump administration that would cut SNAP benefits nationally and make it harder for people to “heat and eat;”
  2. Urge Members of Congress to join Rep. Adams and 113 colleagues in cosponsoring H.R.1368 to boost SNAP benefits; and
  3. Join @fractweets in participating in #HandsOffSNAP/#ProtectSNAP tweetstorms on November 14 at 3 p.m. Eastern and on December 2 at 2 p.m. Eastern.