Kennedy ready to save state’s SNAP funding

The Associated Press

Louisiana SNAPAmerican Press composite

BATON ROUGE — U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said Wednesday he’ll ask federal officials to intervene to keep Louisiana’s food stamp program for low-income households up and running if the state moves to eliminate it because of budget cuts.

Kennedy said he’s introducing federal legislation that would seek USDA administration of Louisiana’s food stamp program, distributing aid through food banks and faith-based food programs. The Republican senator said he doesn’t want Louisiana to lose $1.4 billion in federal food assistance it doles out annually to more than 19 percent of the state’s residents.

“I hope the bill isn’t necessary,” Kennedy said in a conference call with reporters. But he added: “I don’t want people to worry. I want all people who are dependent on food stamps not to be scared.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration says a $34 million cut slated for the Department of Children and Family Services on July 1 will make it unable to pay for administration of the federally funded benefits, starting in January.

The Democratic governor wants lawmakers to replace some expiring temporary taxes in a 10-day special session that starts Monday to help save the food stamp program and close other budget gaps. Lawmakers failed to reach a tax deal in two previous special sessions, with Edwards at odds with House Republican leaders about how much money to raise.

“I’m not going to let the state lose $1.4 billion because of a political spat,” Kennedy said.

The senator, who is considering running against Edwards next year, didn’t notify the governor’s office about his proposal. It’s unclear if he could get congressional support for the measure — or how long such a debate would take in a Congress not known for its speed on issues. Edwards’ spokesman Richard Carbo questioned if federal officials would go for the idea.

“Throughout this entire budget process, the Department of Children and Family Services has been working with the federal government. They have given no indication that they are willing or able to do what the senator is suggesting,” Carbo said in a statement.

He said the governor remains “hopeful that the Legislature acts in the upcoming special session to resolve this problem once and for all.”

About 860,000 people in Louisiana receive assistance from the food stamp program — known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The Department of Children and Family Services said about half of those recipients are children.

The Edwards administration said it hopes the program elimination doesn’t happen, but Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said her department has few options after years of budget cuts. The reduction included in next year’s budget would strip 24 percent of the unrestricted, discretionary state general fund money the agency receives.

Without additional funding, Walters said her department will officially notify the USDA in September that it intends to shut down Louisiana’s SNAP program. In January, 1,000 staff would be laid off, eight offices closed and aid from the program ended.

No other state has ever shuttered a SNAP program.

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