HARTFORD, Conn. — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy struck back Monday against U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, saying it was reprehensible to accuse Connecticut and other states of cheating the federal food stamp program by approving nominal increases in home heating assistance.
Boehner told reporters last week that state officials are circumventing the intent of Congress, which cut $800 million a year, or about 1 percent, in food stamp spending.
"Since the passage of the farm bill, states have found ways to cheat once again on signing up people for food stamps," he said.
In a letter to the Ohio Republican, Malloy, a Democrat, said Congress intended to grant states the authority to provide heating assistance linked to food stamps.
"To characterize as cheating and fraud states' implementation of this provision is disingenuous at best and shameful at worst," he told Boehner.
The $100 billion per year farm bill cut the food stamp program by ending some state practices that give recipients minimal heating assistance — as low as $1 per person — to trigger higher food stamp benefits. Compromise legislation requires states to give recipients at least $20 in heating assistance before a higher food stamp benefit could kick in.
Malloy, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock approved the higher heating assistance to preserve food stamp benefits.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said the governors are following the law as written. If Boehner is surprised, he did "not do his due diligence when voting on the bill," he said.
"It was something that people were actively discussing in Washington before the vote that the states could do what Connecticut did," Courtney said.
An order by Malloy to spend about $1.4 million in federal energy aid, increasing benefits for 50,000 low-income Connecticut residents from $1 to $20 to avoid losing $112 in monthly food stamp benefits. It will preserve about $67 million in food stamp benefits.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said governors who are undermining the farm bill "are putting those who depend on the home heating program at risk, and taking money out of every American taxpayer's pocket."
Boehner hinted that the Republican-controlled House may pass new legislation to curtail or halt efforts by states to maintain food stamp spending, "perpetuating the flaw that we were trying to stop," he said.
"So there's a number of things yet on our agenda," the speaker said.
Courtney said he doubts the House will return to the farm bill, which was a huge, cumbersome and complicated spending bill that reached Obama after years of setbacks.