By MICHAEL WARTON featured in the Record Eagle Feb. 14, 2016.
TRAVERSE CITY — Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials are encouraging food stamp recipients across the state to make sure they're receiving proper benefit amounts by filing for a Home Heating Credit.
A DHHS press release issued Tuesday states Home Heating Credits of more than $20 can qualify food stamp recipients— including renters who pay heating costs as part of their rent — for increased monthly food assistance through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The release comes after recent Record-Eagle reports detailed how public housing residents across the state lost monthly food stamp benefits because they hadn't applied for home heating credits, a form of assistance many residents contend they knew nothing about.
Judy Myers, Cadillac’s housing commission director, said many public housing residents she knows have successfully restored food stamp levels after learning about the home heating credit and how it factors into food assistance.
"We're actually having a little party this afternoon to celebrate," Myers said Thursday.
Food stamps cuts hit Michigan public housing residents — and other food stamp recipients — throughout 2015 and resulted from a provision of the 2014 federal Farm Bill designed to curb SNAP costs.
Before the Farm Bill passed, several states like Michigan followed a practice known as “Heat and Eat” which allowed people who received as little as $1 in automatic low-income home heating assistance annually to qualify for increased SNAP benefits.
The Farm Bill raised the $1 requirement for increased SNAP benefits to $20. Michigan was one of only four states where officials declined to increase the automatic home heating payments from $1 to more than $20 after the Farm Bill passed.
As a result elderly and disabled residents at Traverse City's Riverview Terrace public housing complex saw monthly SNAP allocations that previously totaled as much as $150 plunge to as little as $16 per month.
Many like Linda Hazimi have since restored those benefits, thanks in large part to Riverview Terrace resident Priscilla Townsend. Townsend saw what was going on with her neighbors' benefits, figured out the importance of the heating credit and helped her neighbors apply for the assistance, a credit many residents had long qualified for, even if they didn't realize it.
Hazimi said she thinks the information issued by the state this week would have helped her understand how, by applying for the heating credit, she could have avoided food stamps cuts she endured for six months.
"The worst part was nobody told any of us that we had to have that heating credit," Hazimi said as she reviewed the information. "The first line alone makes you more aware."
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