OVERNIGHT MONEY: Vilsack could face food stamp questions

FRIDAY'S BIG STORY: 

Food stamp rumble: House appropriators will explore the Agriculture Department’s fiscal 2015 budget request with a rare Friday hearing.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will be joined by Joseph Glauber, chief economist at Agriculture, and Michael Young, the agency's budget officer, during the hearing that could turn to Republican concerns about the food stamp program.

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On Thursday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) expressed concern that states are gaming the system to avoid the $8.6 billion in cuts that Congress authorized under the recently enacted farm bill law.

"Since the passage of the farm bill, states have found ways to cheat, once again, on signing up people for food stamps,” Boehner said. "And so I would hope that the House would act to try to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing."

Several states, including New York and Pennsylvania, are raising home-heating subsidies to prevent the loss of benefits from the food stamp program formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“We just passed a farm bill, and we find states finding ways around the farm bill and frankly perpetuating the fraud that we were trying to stop,” Boehner said.

Some of the food aid is tied to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and through a heat-or-eat program, anyone who receives federal heating aid can qualify for food stamps, too. 

So, some states have decided to offer eligible residents heating aid, as little as $1, to allow the food stamp benefits to kick into place. 

Although the farm bill law has new thresholds for home-heating aid that triggers the food stamp benefits, some states like New York are shifting funds from other programs to provide more subsidies for the additional heating assistance. 

In fiscal 2013, the SNAP program cost nearly $80 billion, a record amount. 

 

WHAT ELSE WE’RE WATCHING

Easing tensions: Secretary of State John Kerry travels to London on Friday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Crimea. 

The White House vowed on Thursday to impose sanctions against Russia if Moscow “continues down the path that it is currently on” in Ukraine.

 

BREAKING NEWS

Let's make a deal: The Senate reached a bipartisan deal on Thursday that would renew federal unemployment benefits for five months.

The final proposal, put together by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), would provide retroactive benefits to people who lost federal help after the program expired on Dec. 28.

“There are a lot of good people looking for work and I am pleased we’re finally able to reach a strong, bipartisan consensus to get them some help,” Reed said. 

 

ECONOMIC INDICATORS 

Producer Price Index (PPI): The Labor Department will release its February report that tracks the prices of goods at the wholesale level. The market tracks PPI closely because it represents prices for goods that are ready to sell to consumers.   

Michigan Sentiment: Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan will release its measure of consumer sentiment for March. 

 

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— Senate clears bill to ease flood insurance hikes

— McCain: GOP senators opposing Ukraine bill are 'dead wrong'

— Despite Congress delay, US preps for Ukraine aid

Boehner shoots down Senate's Ukraine bill

— Reid blames Ukraine standoff on Kochs

— Kerry downplays possibility of wider Russian military action

— IG: Administration overstated mortgage fraud crackdown efforts

— Cummings 'deeply troubled' over lack of focus on mortgage fraud

— Deficit for 2014 reaches $377B, Treasury reports

— Obama gives order to 'modernize' overtime pay

— First-time jobless claims dropped 9,000 last week

— Fed nominee defends Citigroup tenure

— Boehner: Lerner contempt still in play

— Retail sales thaw out in February

— Lawmakers demand war budget from Pentagon

— White House reverses O-Care subsidy cuts

— US, Japan remain at impasse over market access issues

— Bank, store anti-hacker partnership moving forward

 

Catch us on Twitter: @VickoftheHill, @peteschroeder, @elwasson and @berniebecker3

For tips and feedback email vneedham@thehill.com.  

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