The Week in Review

An idea that may have started with a call by Sen. Bernie Sanders to Vermont’s governor is keeping nutrition and home heating assistance flowing to people in a growing number of states. House Speaker John Boehner was fuming on Thursday over how the idea that Sanders was the first to broach with Gov. Shumlin has foiled a Republican bid to cut food stamps. Election Day on Tuesday in Illinois saw another example of widespread public support for raising the minimum wage. Also on Tuesday, Sanders was among senators signing a letter sent to President Obama urging him to issue an executive order banning workplace discrimination against gays.  

Heat and Eat Vermont and other states have figured out a way to help some seniors and families with children avoid freezing or starving this winter. Under a so-called “Heat and Eat” provision in the food stamps program, a household is entitled to more food aid if it also is enrolled in the federally-funded Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps people pay their utility bills. Some states were making only token payments to families for home heating assistance to help them qualify for food stamps. The farm bill that Congress passed in February said states would have to pay at least $20 a year in fuel aid to prompt the food stamp benefits. Republicans assumed that states wouldn’t want to pay the extra $20 and projected that the new farm bill would result in $8.6 billion in food stamp cuts over the next decade. They were wrong. Even before voting on the farm bill, Sen. Bernie Sanders called Gov. Peter Shumlin and won assurances that Vermont would come up with the extra heating aid funding needed to prevent cuts in food stamps for Vermont families and seniors. Now, at least eight states have decided to do the same thing and raise their heating-aid payments enough to avoid food stamp cuts. House Speaker John Boehner is in a dither. He said on Thursday that he wants Congress “to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing.” The New York Times called out Boehner’s histrionics. “The states are doing exactly what the farm bill — which Mr. Boehner supported — encouraged them to do: pay more to some of the poorest families in America so they neither freeze nor starve during a brutal winter.” The change in the Vermont law is expected to soon win final approval by the state Legislature. Without the fix, about 21,000 Vermont families would lose food stamps benefits worth $90 a month on average, according to Marissa Parisi, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont.

Raise the Wage In the latest example of overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage, 87 percent of the voters in some Chicago precincts on Tuesday voted for a higher minimum wage, John Nichols blogged for The Nation. Sanders is a cosponsor of Senate legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. More than 28 million workers nationwide – including 38,300 in Vermont – would benefit from raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The minimum wage was last raised, to $7.25 an hour, in 2009. But the real value has been falling because of inflation. This year alone, the minimum wage is projected to lose 1.7 percent of its value. For a full-time worker, that $250 loss would be enough to buy groceries for a month or to pay a utility bill. If Congress fails to act, the real value of the minimum wage is projected to erode by 10 percent over the next five year. That’s a loss of more than $1,400 dollars of purchasing power for a full-time worker. Read The Nation

Workplace Discrimination Nearly 200 lawmakers, including Sanders, signed a letter sent to President Obama this week urging him to use executive authority to ban workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors. It’s legal in 33 states to fire or harass someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Senate last Nov. 7 passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw discrimination against gays by all employers. The House, however, has refused to take up its version of the bill. A growing number of lawmakers are looking for the president to take action to at least make federal contractors agree not to fire workers because of their sexual orientation.  “An executive order covering LGBT employees would be in line with a bipartisan, decades-long commitment to eradicating taxpayer-funded discrimination in the workplace,” the letter to the president said. Read the letter

U.S. and Russia President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Friday signed bills reclaiming Crimea from Ukraine. Meanwhile, the acting prime minister of Ukraine signed an agreement with the European Union. Earlier in the week, tit for tat sanctions were imposed by Moscow and Washington as tensions mounted between the United States and Russia. “The entire world has got to stand up to Putin,” Sanders had said in a television interview. He mentioned freezing Russians’ assets as a possible recourse. “There are a number of things that you could do. But this is what you don't do: You don't go to war. You don't sacrifice lives of young people in this country as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Take the poll

U.S. Senators in South America Sanders was among members of Congress who met on Thursday with President Evo Morales at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia. Sanders was part of a congressional delegation on a goodwill mission to improve relations that have deteriorated since Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008 and the U.S. retaliated by forcing the Bolivian ambassador out of their embassy in Washington. On Monday, the American senators and congressmen met with newly-inaugurated Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. The group was led by Sen. Tom Harkin included Sens. Sanders and Maria Cantwell and Reps. George Miller, Jared Huffman and Rush Holt.