(WASHINGTON, D.C.) –Mayor Vincent C. Gray has designated funds in his proposed FY15 budget to provide a solution for continuing the Heat and Eat program. The cost of the program will increase from $60,000 annually to approximately $1.3 million annually, which will be reinvested in the local economy. The District of Columbia will join six states in increasing the heating and cooling assistance to the annual minimum mandated by the passage of the new Farm Bill, so that thousands of District families will not experience additional cuts to their monthly food stamp benefits.
One key policy that many states, including the District of Columbia, implemented beginning in October of 2008, was a fuel assistance initiative called “Heat and Eat.” With Heat and Eat, households received an annual nominal energy subsidy. These households then qualified for the maximum Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) and their food stamp benefits increased.
The 2014 Farm Bill requires families to receive an annual nominal energy subsidy of at least $20 per household to qualify for the SUA deduction. BB Otero, the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services says she applauds Mayor Gray for allocating resources to maintain the Heat and Eat subsidy. “Many residents would experience much greater hardship in trying to feed their families if the District does not make this investment,” said Otero.
A household’s food stamp allotment is based on a number of factors, including income and certain deductions such as child care and shelter costs (including utilities). Typically, in calculating a household’s food stamp benefit, the household receives a SUA based on cost of utilities the household is responsible for. Maximizing the SUA, in turn, maximizes the amount of federal food stamp aid for which a family is eligible.
If a food stamp household is receiving benefits from the District’s Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), both USDA guidance and District food stamp policy provide that the household is entitled to the SUA when calculating that household’s monthly food stamp benefits. This can increase the household’s food stamp benefit by over $150.00 and streamline the application process by not requiring a household to submit utility bills and not requiring the state to verify these bills.