As the federal government looks to implement the massive cuts to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – and already dealing with the fallout of thousands of Pennsylvanians who have seen their unemployment benefits end due to Congress’ unwillingness to compromise on the unemployment bill, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) recently sent a letter to United State Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging the department to do all it can to delay the cuts.
Casey wants a delay until November 1, which would “give the USDA time to put out guidance for states” and allow states to update a range of programs, including heating assistance platforms that are directly or indirectly impacted by SNAP cuts.
And in light of a particularly brutal winter, Casey said delaying cuts is the moral thing to do for his constituents.
“Implementing these cuts right away will have a negative impact on Pennsylvania’s economy and pose new challenges for vulnerable children and seniors during this winter,” Casey said. “States like Pennsylvania which are significantly impacted by these changes need the appropriate amount of time to implement them to help ensure residents are protected.”
The impact of the cuts to SNAP and the halt of unemployment benefits are real. According to the report, “Impact of the End of Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program on Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware Unemployed Workers,” 231,895 tri-state residents will have lost their unemployment benefits by March 1, and 536,400 by year’s end.
The report, prepared by the Unemployment Information Center, also blasted Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), for voting against the unemployment compensation bill.
“On February 6, 2014 the Senate voted to reauthorize Emergency Unemployment Compensation failed by a single Senator. All Senators in PA, DE, & NJ, except for Senator Pat Toomey voted to restore the EUC program. Due to the end of EUC more than 105,000 Pennsylvanians will have lost their benefits by March 1. Each week without Congressional action will result in more than 3,500 additional unemployed workers in Pennsylvania losing their benefits. In New Jersey, over 121,000 will have lost benefits by March 1, and each week 3,427 will run out of benefits. In Delaware over 5,000 people will have expired by March 1, with 185 joining their ranks each week this year,” read a portion of the report. “Because of the end of EUC, almost two million workers nationally have had their EUC terminated. Now only one in four unemployed persons are collecting unemployment compensation. Over 230,000 will have exhausted benefits in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware by March 1.
“By the end of June, 354,040 long term unemployed will be without unemployment compensation in the tri-state area. Over 535,000 people will lose their benefits by the end of 2014.”
As with the EUC, the SNAP cuts will have a devastating effect on the economy, as according to Casey, ever dollar in SNAP spending generates $1.75 in economic growth.
Casey outlined the economic and moral reasons for delaying the cut in his letter to Vilsack.
“We urge you to use your authority to implement the new Farm Bill regulations for the ‘Heat and Eat’ program this fall when states receive their Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) block grants. This will allow state agencies time to develop policies to address the change and gives states adequate time to comply with their new LIHEAP allotment. Our states need time to adjust their policies to accommodate this drastic cut and roll out the changes seamlessly to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants,” read a portion of Casey’s letter to Vilsack. “The Farm Bill conference agreement, which was signed into law last week, increases the cost to states that use LIHEAP payments to qualify low-income participants for SNAP. Currently, the District of Columbia and 15 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin) implement LIHEAP policies. This state option has helped to alleviate some of the untenable ‘heat or eat’ choices that households face. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this change will reduce benefits for about 850,000 low-income households in our states by an average of $90 a month. However, we have heard from our hunger advocates that the impact to certain states will be far greater.
“We urge you to implement the ‘Heat and Eat’ policy change this fall when states receive their LIHEAP block grants so that our agencies have adequate time to comply with their new LIHEAP allotments…furthermore, this will allow the Heat and Eat states the necessary time to provide outreach and support for many seniors, children, and individuals living with a disability who will be impacted by this policy change.”