One for Our Side

U.S. to Drop Benefit Cuts Linked to Drug Discounts
By ROBERT PEAR

Published: NY Times, June 13, 2004

WASHINGTON, June 12 – The Bush administration said Saturday that it would rescind a federal policy that threatened to cut food stamp benefits for several million low-income elderly and disabled people who save money on their medicines by using the new Medicare drug discount cards.

The administration’s reversal came two days before President Bush was scheduled to visit Missouri to promote use of the cards, which have received a tepid reaction from many Medicare beneficiaries.

In interviews this week, state officials across the country said low-income people who used the cards could find their food stamp benefits reduced as a result. The cuts, they said, were a direct result of federal regulations and a policy statement issued by the Agriculture Department on March 10.

The purpose of the discount cards is to reduce out-of-pocket drug costs. But when a person’s drug expenses go down, state officials said, the food stamp program assumes that the person has more money available to spend on other needs, including food. So the person may receive a smaller food stamp allotment, they said.

Judy K. Toelle, the food stamp director in South Dakota, confirmed that such cuts would occur under the federal rules. For example, she said, a woman with monthly income of $1,060, shelter expenses of $555 and drug costs of $325 now receives $51 a month in food stamps. But, she said, if the card reduced her out-of-pocket drug costs by $100, the woman would get $41 less in food stamps, so the net saving would be $59.

Food stamp officials in California, Colorado, Missouri , New Mexico and Washington State said they were simply following federal rules in reducing food stamp benefits to take account of the fact that people with discount cards spent less on prescription drugs. Those regulations have not been changed.

But after inquiries from The New York Times, Eric M. Bost, an under secretary of agriculture, said, “We will immediately be clarifying policy guidance to ensure that food stamp applicants or recipients who use the new Medicare discount card will experience no impact on their eligibility or benefits.”

The abrupt shift highlights the confusion between federal and state officials, and between the two federal agencies that administer Medicare and food stamps.

‘Confusion’? The only confusion is that Bost, the guy who thinks hunger shelters are shopping centers for suburban Moms, forgot that Bush was trying to get re-elected on the old ‘compassionate conservative’ ploy. So somebody reminded him.

Elections are good for stuff like this.

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