Advocates say the impact will be vast.
“Food banks and other charities in our state already can’t keep up with the skyrocketing need, and they certainly can’t fill the $136 million gap in food aid left by this Farm Bill,” said Julie Zaebst, policy manager for the Coalition Against Hunger.
Lori Weston, director of the Community Food Warehouse in Mercer County, said repeated cuts in benefits are pushing charitable groups to the brink.
In many cases, food pantries are forced to tell people they can only provide emergency aid, but they simply can’t take on any more regular clients, Weston said.
“This cut is going to be enormous,” Weston said. “I can’t imagine what’s going to happen.”
The Farm Bill passed by the House this week affects Pennsylvania and other “heat and eat” states. Under the program, anyone who qualifies for energy assistance is assumed to qualify for the shelter deduction and the increase in food stamps that it brings.
In practice, that means the state can leverage as little as $1 in energy assistance per family into added food stamps payments.
Last winter, 795,000 families qualified for heating assistance. So far this winter, 425,000 households have gotten help with heating bills.
In December, 895,000 families in Pennsylvania were eligible for food stamps.
The Department of Public Welfare has not calculated how many families receiving “heat and eat” benefits only got the nominal $1 in energy assistance and would therefore be most impacted by the Farm Bill’s changes, agency spokesman Eric Kiehl said Friday. The Coalition Against Hunger has estimated that 175,000 families will be affected.
Critics of the program in Congress argue that a family only getting $1 a year in energy assistance doesn’t really need energy assistance, so the state is just playing a fiscal shell game to provide that family more money in food stamps.
The Farm Bill would require states to provide at least $20 in energy assistance per year to a family in order to trigger a boost in food stamps. Complying with that rule would probably drain too much money from the state’s heating aid pot, Kiehl said.
“It appears cost-prohibitive,” Kiehl said.
U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Lycoming County, hailed the Farm Bill for including the first federal reforms to the food stamp program in 18 years.
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Allegheny County, voted against it, saying its cuts weren’t deep enough.
“While this bill began necessary reforms to agriculture and nutrition programs, in an era of a $17 trillion national debt, more were needed,” Rothfus said.
Zaebst said the Farm Bill, with its “heat and eat” reform, tries to force the hands of state policymakers.
“Pennsylvania cannot afford to run the heat and eat program with the new rules,” Zaebst said. “That was the Congressional intent.”
The average monthly food stamp benefit in Pennsylvania is $128 per month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The latest cuts would come just two months after the expiration of a food stamp benefit tied to federal stimulus funds. That cut, in November, translated into a $29 a month decrease in aid for a family of three.
Weston, in Mercer County, said that triggered a 10 to 15 percent increase in requests for help from food pantries.
“We saw an immediate reaction after Nov. 1,” Weston said.
Advocates say the impact will be vast.
- Local News
Community thanks its first-responders
Sharpsville honored its emergency responders Sunday at an event that included Mertz Towers residents as special guests.
Drilling boom challenges state inspectors
The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.
A span of time
Four generations of the Cadman family have enjoyed the Kidds Mill Covered Bridge, which is in Pymatuning Township near where the family’s ancestral farm is located.
Intruder hurts woman, takes $5
A home invasion in Hermitage Friday night sent an elderly woman to the hospital and netted the robber $5.
March against crime set for Aug. 5
At the last Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Commission meeting, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. presented the number of incidents for each of the four communities in May.
Farrell topped out at 819.
History buffs and picnickers in the Shenango Valley won’t have to drive to Sharpsville to hang out at the old Erie Canal extension lock. They’ll soon have the option to walk or roll in on bicycles and even powered chairs to visit Canal Park near the outflow of Shenango Dam.
Balloon Quest celebrates 25 years
Today is the final day of the 25th annual Western Pennsylvania Balloon Quest at Scotland Meadows Park.
News briefs from July 26, 2014
Man faces bomb threat charges
June building tops $4 million in Hermitage
Elderly man survives plane crash
An elderly man survived wrecking his plane into a bank, then landing into a wetland, about 200 feet south of Runway 28 at Grove City Regional Airport in Springfield Township on Friday.
Man arrested for April gunfight
Federal marshals and local police arrested Dontae Rashad Pinkins Thursday on a warrant accusing him of involvement in an April gunfight with another man in a Sharon alley.
Hearing changed in starving case
The time and place for the preliminary hearing of a Greenville mom accused of starving and beating her 7-year-old young son has been changed.
Drawn to Mexico
Jason Schell probably is not exaggerating when he says that millions of people have seen his art.
Farrell man, 24, arrested on warrant in connection with April shooting
Federal marshals and local police arrested Dontae Rashad Pinkins Thursday on a warrant accusing him of involvement in an April shootout in Sharon.
Pinkins, 24, of Farrell, is in Mercer County Jail after failing to post bond on gun charges.
Additional details to follow.
Firm will study timing of traffic signals
Hermitage commissioners on Wednesday hired Whitman, Requardt and Associates LLP to study the timing scheme of traffic signals along parts of Hermitage Road and East State Street.
3 area fire depts. awarded grants
Three area fire departments will share in more than $590,000 in grants meant to help Pennsylvania’s rural communities guard against the threat of fires in forests and other undeveloped areas, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Ellen Ferretti announced.
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