WASHINGTON, October 4 - The Vermont congressional delegation today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will postpone a pending reduction in food stamp benefits for 16,000 Vermonters for at least three months. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) pledged to continue to fight for a long-term solution to this problem.
Sanders authored a letter signed by Leahy and 13 other senators asking Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack to reconsider his department's plan cut to nutrition assistance benefits under Vermont's "3SquaresVT" program. Welch strongly supported a similar letter from members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Last month, the USDA announced that on Oct. 1 the State of Vermont would be required to implement a cut of as much 25 percent the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits received by 16,000 Vermont families. The department's decision was based on declining home utility costs which factor into the food stamp benefits formula. Around the country, at least 2 million people would also have seen a reduction in their food stamp benefit.
The senators wrote that a decision to allow food stamp benefits to fall would "greatly reduce the nutrition assistance benefits that many of our constituents rely on to feed their families during this continued time of economic distress. In addition, we are worried that the failure to extend this waiver will disproportionately impact the elderly and persons with disabilities." Rep. Welch echoed those sentiments, writing that families should not be "subjected to these reductions in SNAP benefits as they attempt to make it through these difficult economic times."
In August 2009, the Department of Agriculture issued a waiver that allowed states to use the 2008 utility allowance formula for 2009, which would have prevented a drastic cut in nutrition assistance for millions of families around the country. Seventeen states, including Vermont, took advantage of this waiver, which was set to expire on October 1, 2010.
Angela Smith-Dieng, senior nutrition and policy specialist for the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, said "This benefit cut would have hit Vermonters very hard, especially seniors and people with disabilities, at a time when budgets are already stretched thin. A $30 to $40 cut could mean the loss of a week's worth of food for a low-income household, significantly increasing the risk of hunger and poor health. We are very grateful to Vermont's congressional delegation for its leadership in preventing this cut from hurting some of our most vulnerable citizens in Vermont and throughout New England during these difficult economic times."