Earlier this year funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or Food Stamps) was cut by Congress in the Farm Bill by eliminating what some lawmakers considered a loophole. Many states, including Washington give households whose utilities are included in their rent or mortgage $1 per year in Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds. Getting $1 in LIHEAP means these households can take the highest utility deduction on their heating bills while also automatically qualifying for higher SNAP/Basic Food benefits. The change required households receiving LIHEAP to get at least $20 to take the highest deduction. About 200,000 Washington households are affected, with the potential to lose up to $90 per month in food assistance.
Cuts Restored by Governor, but Implementation is an Issue
The good news is Governor Inslee joined governors from nearly a dozen other states in providing $20.01 in LIHEAP funds to affected households, thus avoiding the cuts. Unfortunately changing the State’s Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS) system to manage this change takes considerable time and the process will not be completed until January 2015. This means that some households will see a cut in benefits for November and December.
In January, households can expect to see two separate payments. First, households will get the lower benefit amount and later in the month, they will receive the rest of the payment. This supplemental payment will bring them back up to what they were getting before the November cut. Beginning in February, the benefit amounts for these households will be back where they were in October 2014.
What to Tell Clients
- Emphasize the benefit loss is for two months only. Families should contact DSHS if they do not receive two benefit deposits in January 2015;
- Ask whether their household has separate utility bills that they pay each month that are not included in their rent. If so, urge them to contact DSHS immediately to provide this information so they will continue to qualify for higher benefits with NO months of reduced benefits; and
- Encourage new applicants for Basic Food/Food Stamps to let their caseworker know if they have separate utility payments each month.
WithinReach Family Health Hotline can help link households with other resources to get through the next few months: 1-800-322-2588 www.parenthelp123.org/family-health-hotline