Randy Alison Aussenberg
Analyst in Nutrition Assistance Policy
Specialist in Housing Policy
As Congress formulates the next farm bill—an omnibus bill that reauthorizes a
range of agriculture and nutrition programs—program integrity and deficit
reduction have been leading themes. One of the cost-saving measures in the
farm bill proposals would address the way in which Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are calculated. The SNAP statute allows
for certain deductions from income when calculating a household’s benefit
level, including an excess shelter deduction which incorporates utility costs. If
a family receives benefits through another federal program, the Low Income Home
Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), this deduction from income can be
higher, allowing for a higher SNAP benefit for the household. Bills in
both the Senate and House would limit the deduction associated with
LIHEAP, particularly seeking to end a practice that has been referred to as “Heat and
Eat.” Similar proposals were considered in the 112th Congress but were not
Under current law, a SNAP household can use a LIHEAP payment (regardless of the
amount of that payment) to document that the household has incurred
heating and cooling costs. This documentation triggers a standard utility
allowance (SUA), a figure intended to represent typical state-specific
utility costs that enters into the SNAP benefit calculation equation. Unless
the household is receiving the maximum SNAP benefit already, a household’s
monthly benefit can increase if the inclusion of an SUA results in an
excess shelter deduction. In addition to current law, current practice of,
most recently, 17 states also affects the interaction between these
benefit programs. While virtually all SNAP states consider LIHEAP in their calculation,
approximately 16 states have implemented the so-called “Heat and Eat” policy. “Heat and
Eat” is a phrase that the low-income and anti-hunger advocacy community has
used to describe state and program policies that leverage nominal (as
little as $1) LIHEAP payments into an increase in households’ SNAP
benefits that is larger than the initial LIHEAP payment. Also, one state
allows SNAP applicants to benefit from an SUA if the household applies for
In the 113th Congress, farm bills in the Senate and House would limit “Heat and Eat”
• Under S.
954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of
2013, which was passed by the Senate on June 10, 2013, only LIHEAP
payments above $10 annually would confer this potential advantage.
Payments of $10 and below would no longer entitle a household to earn an
SUA during the benefit calculation process. If a household received less
than $10 in energy assistance, households would have to present alternate
documentation of heating and cooling costs in order to have utilities
factored into calculating their excess shelter deduction.
• Under both H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture
Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, which was defeated on the House
floor on June 20, 2013, and H.R. 3102,
the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013, only LIHEAP payments
above $20 annually would confer this potential advantage.
In addition, several bills have been introduced in the 113th Congress that would go
further than the proposals in S. 954, H.R. 1947, and H.R.
3102 and eliminate the ability of households to qualify
for the SNAP SUA based on receipt of LIHEAP. Instead, households would have to present
alternative documentation of utility costs. These bills include S.
458/H.R. 1510 and S. 762 /H.R.
Date of Report: September 17, 2013
Number of Pages: 15 Order Number: R42591
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