House Republicans press Sebelius on food stamp ‘misuse’ by states

Top House Republicans on Thursday pressed departing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusProgressives set to test appeal of prairie populism in Kansas primary Overcoming health-care challenges by moving from volume to value Mr. President, let markets help save Medicare MORE to rein in what they see as food stamp cheating by state governments.
 
GOP leaders have been angered that the deficit reduction from the new farm bill could be less than expected because states have found a way to thwart a new restriction on food stamp eligibility in the legislation. 
 
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) wrote to Sebelius seeking answers about how the department administers the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and whether it can prevent states from “misusing” the program to get more food stamp dollars.
 
ADVERTISEMENT
The 2014 farm bill sought to save $8 billion in the food stamp program by limiting the ability of states to make people eligible for food stamp benefits by giving them LIHEAP money.  
 
Some state officials were reported to give as little as 10 cents per year in home heating aid just to automatically qualify recipients for food stamps. 
 
“Since enactment of the farm bill, several states have announced that they will take action to raise their minimal LIHEAP payment to $20 for the sole purpose of maintaining higher [food stamp] benefit levels,” the new letter tells Sebelius.
 
It goes on to say that the state action could mean households in true need of home heating assistance are not given help.
 
“If states are issuing LIHEAP payments to households with no out of pocket energy expenses, what action will HHS take to remedy the outcome?” the lawmakers ask.
 
The letter seeks a response from Sebelius by May 1. Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBlue wave poses governing risks for Dems Nancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker MORE (R-Ohio) has said the House will take up legislation to make more food stamp reforms this year.
 
A leading Senate Democrat on hunger issues denounced the GOP moves.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandTeen girls pen open letter supporting Kavanaugh accuser: We imagine you at that party and 'see ourselves' Poll: Most Massachusetts voters don't think Warren should run for president in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — GOP again has momentum on Kavanaugh rollercoaster MORE (D-N.Y.), said the GOP should realize that the government needs to do more, not less, to combat hunger.

"This is a red herring that some in Congress continue to perpetuate," Gillibrand said through a spokeswoman. "You only have to read the law to know that states who choose to take steps to stave off hunger are doing so in compliance with both the letter and spirit of the law."

"What we are seeing across the country are governors of both parties saying we have to do better to ensure children, seniors and veterans don't go hungry. Congress would be wise to finally listen," she added.
 
Sebelius announced last week that she would resign her post after five tumultuous years. President Obama has named budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace her, pending Senate confirmation. 
 
The Republican letter was also signed by House Agriculture Nutrition subcommittee Chairman Steve King (R-Iowa), and by Energy and Commerce Oversight subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.).