Gov. Tom Corbett listens to a question during a news conference Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke/AP Photo

Corbett averts food-stamp cuts in Pa.

Updated
After Congress changed food-stamp funding, a couple of Democratic blue-state governors – Connecticut’s Dannel Malloy and New York’s Andrew Cuomo – acted fairly quickly to mitigate the damage. Yesterday, an unexpected third governor joined the club.
 
As Laura Clawson recently explained, Congress changed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, mostly targeting blue states through a provision called “heat and eat,” creating new vulnerabilities for those relying on aid.
 
Few expected Pennsylvania to follow in Connecticut’s and New York’s footsteps, but it did.
In a move that surprised even his most cynical critics, Gov. Corbett on Wednesday night forestalled an estimated $3 billion in cuts to food stamps in the state over the next 10 years.
 
By doing so, Corbett became the first Republican governor in the country to prevent the cuts ordered by Congress, which is looking to slash $8.6 billion over the next decade to the food-stamp program, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
 
The governor’s decision will preserve benefits for 400,000 Pennsylvania households slated to lose a monthly average of $60 to $65 each in benefits, amounting to $300 million a year, said Kait Gillis, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Welfare.
Some political cynicism is understandable. It’s an election year and polls show Corbett struggling. The governor hasn’t exactly been a friend to food-stamp beneficiaries – it wasn’t long ago that Corbett connected SNAP eligibility to asset tests – so his critics can be forgiven for thinking this latest move is more the result of electoral desperation than genuine compassion.
 
But for beneficiaries, the governor’s motivations won’t really matter, and for progressive politics in general, it’s a good sign when Republicans in trouble feel the need to move unexpectedly to the left in the hopes of becoming more popular.
 
More on the policy from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s report:
The cuts to SNAP delineated in the federal Farm Bill passed last month were being borne by 15 states that operate the “Heat and Eat” program, which coordinates energy assistance with SNAP. Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey are Heat and Eat states. Under the program, some of the families that received as little as $1 in federal heating assistance saw increased SNAP benefits.
 
Last month, Congress changed the rules, stipulating in the Farm Bill that a family would have to have at least $20 in heating assistance before receiving increased SNAP benefits.
 
Corbett committed to increase federal energy aid from $1 to $20. It will work this way: The energy aid - known as LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) - is federal money given to the state in the form of a block grant. Corbett will use $8 million from the block grant this year to cover the $19 increase in LIHEAP stipulated by Congress. No state money will be used.
As this relates to the upcoming gubernatorial campaign, the issue will probably be a wash – Democratic candidates will support the policy.

Food Stamps, Pennsylvania and Tom Corbett

Corbett averts food-stamp cuts in Pa.

Updated