Wisconsin legislators seek action to avoid reduced food stamp aid
Written By: Georgia Pabst
Two Democratic legislators asked Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday to take executive action to avoid reducing FoodShare benefits to 255,000 low-income households.
At a news conference at the Hunger Task Force, Democratic Reps. Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point and Evan Goyke of Milwaukee said they had asked for a meeting with Walker to urge him to restore FoodShare benefits by using $5.4 million in federal energy assistance to provide $273.6 million in FoodShare benefits.
Wisconsin has participated in the federal "Heat and Eat" program, which allows low-income households to receive a boost in FoodShare benefits if they receive at least $1 a month in low-income energy assistance.
But the recently passed 2014 U.S. farm bill raised the Heat and Energy assistance minimum of $1 to $20 per month per household, which effectively reduces FoodShare benefits for 255,000 Wisconsin households, Shankland said.
The cuts would amount to about $90 a month per person, or a total of about $1,000 a year, Shankland said.
She and Goyke introduced legislation to raise the annual amount of federal dollars Wisconsin allocates for "Heat and Eat" energy assistance from $1 to $21 per household.
No state money would be used, they said.
However, the state Assembly adjourned without taking up the bill.
The two said they had not received a response from the governor.
But Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said: "It is not possible to take action by executive order. This would require legislative action and statutory change."
Several other states, including Montana, Connecticut, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Vermont, have taken action to preserve the federal food stamp benefits.
"These cuts will be devastating," Shankland said, adding it affects rural and urban communities and isn't a partisan issue.
"A family already living on the poverty line simply can't sustain those kinds of cuts to their food budget," she said.
By providing $5.4 million of federal money, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates, $276.2 million in FoodShare benefits would become available for Wisconsin families, she said.
"That's money that will be immediately reinvested in the community to put food on the table, prevent hunger and support local jobs," she said.
Jonathan Bader, community action program director with the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, which represents 16 anti-poverty agencies in the state, said it's important to preserve the benefits for poor people.
The cuts will hurt children, the disabled, families already struggling in a poor economy, and the jobless, underemployed or those working but still poor, he said.
About 20% of Wisconsin workers are making poverty wages and need the food assistance, he said. Emergency food pantries can't handle all of the need, he said.