Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) made a shocking move to protect food stamp recipients on Wednesday, forestalling congressional cuts to the benefits program in his state.
Corbett is the first Republican governor to leverage his state's "heat and eat" aid program to preserve food stamp eligibility following the new farm bill's $800 million annual cuts to the program.
Pennsylvania and 15 other states, plus Washington, D.C., coordinate food stamp eligibility with heat assistance. Previously, households receiving as little as $1 in heat assistance were eligible for higher food stamp benefits. But the new farm bill stipulates a $20 minimum in heating assistance for higher food stamp benefits.
Corbett decided to bump federal heat assistance from $1 to $20 to preserve the benefits Pennsylvanians were receiving prior to the compromise farm bill. And since the $19 boost will come completely from the federal block grant that funds the heat assistance, no state money will be used.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Corbett's move will protect benefits for 400,000 households.
"In these challenging and trying times, our most vulnerable families may not have been able to absorb another hit," department spokeswoman Kait Gillis told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Corbett, facing long odds in his reelection campaign, is following the lead of two Democrats -- Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo -- who earlier this week announced plans to preserve food stamps benefits by way of the "heat and eat" program.
"The state has intervened on behalf of these low-income New Yorkers to make sure they can get food for themselves and their families," Cuomo said when he announced the move.