DCFS: Proposed budget leaves Louisiana’s food stamps in limbo

Local News

Louisiana’s food stamp administrators claim that the state House’s current budget proposal falls short of what they need to keep the benefits going next year.

Marketa Walters, who leads the state’s Department of Children and Family Services, told a House budget panel that the agency needs another $13 million to secure the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“There are no edges left to cut,” she said. “We are literally down to bone marrow. There is no fat in this budget.”

The spending proposal from House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry would give DCFS the same dollar number as last year. Walters argued that a similar amount this year would not be enough, amid rising costs in statewide obligations — including leases, foster care and group homes. The mandated costs leave SNAP as the only expense from which the agency can cut, she said.

“It’s not because that program is not valuable or worthy or desperately needed across the state,” she told BRProud.com after Tuesday’s budget hearing. “It is a mathematical equation.”

The federal U.S. Department of Agriculture funds the food stamps themselves, though delivering the benefits still requires state dollars and resources.

More than 850,000 Louisianans received SNAP benefits in the 2018 fiscal year. Walters said a shortfall in DCFS funds would leave her no choice but to stop state distribution of food stamps altogether.

“There’s no way to say we’re going to fund this many people on SNAP and not that many,” she told BRProud.com after Tuesday’s hearing. “The program either exists for everybody, or it doesn’t exist at all.”

Walters said the latest uncertainty highlights a lingering hunger at DCFS, which for years has been no stranger to cuts.

“It just shows the dire consequences of not having enough money to fund basic needs,” she said.

Whether Louisiana will collect enough money next year to fund state programs remains a heated topic between Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and House GOP leaders. House Speaker Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) has thwarted recommendations by state economists to recognize roughly $140 million in revenue.

Barras, who has largely blocked revenue recognitions since last fall, has said he would reconsider his stance as the July 1 fiscal year nears.

Despite the divide, Louisiana’s debate over food stamp funding remains fluid. The state’s Revenue Estimating Conference — which includes Barras, House Speaker John Alario and Edwards budget chief Jay Dardenne — still has time to acknowledge the revenue to fund SNAP. The income forecasting panel will next meet Wednesday morning.

Follow BRProud.com’s Harrison Golden for updates throughout the 2019 Legislative Session.

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