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Marketa Garner Walters, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, speaks Wednesday, August 22, 2018, at the Immaculate Heart of Mary hall in Lafayette, La. The visit is part of a statewide tour to hold community conversations on child welfare and poverty issues.

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services needs $13 million more in funding to keep the state’s food stamp program from being cut, possibly eliminated, officials said Tuesday, as lawmakers continued hearings on a state House budget proposal.

Marketa Walters, secretary of DCFS, told lawmakers her budget is in such financial straits that there is nowhere left to absorb budget cuts aside from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the state's food stamp program. If it is cut, the program effectively ends, she added.

It is unlikely the SNAP program will ultimately be cut, something Walters noted after the committee hearing Tuesday. The hearing was the first step in a long process in shaping the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“Nobody believes we’re really going to cut the SNAP program,” she said. “Nobody wants that.”

But the threat of SNAP ending illustrates the dire state of the DCFS budget, which has taken several cuts in recent years, Walters said.

The budget being proposed by House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, would keep the agency’s funding the same as last year.

That’s because the budget does not include additional money that Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to be recognized. House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, has blocked recommendations by economists to increase the state’s revenue projections, which would give the state roughly $140 million more in money to spend on services.

Henry’s budget keeps funding levels the same as last year, but DCFS is facing mandated cost increases from things like lease payments and an increase in need for specialized foster care funding. That has led to a $13 million difference between the proposed budget and her agency’s needs, Walters said.

“I cannot and will not cut child welfare one nickel,” Walters said, citing the “life and death” consequences of doing so. “Our case loads are crippling.”

SNAP is the only area left for DCFS to cut funding, Walters said.

She said the agency has no way of doling out SNAP benefits to some and not others, so if the department is required to cut SNAP it will put an end to the program. SNAP recipients also faced uncertainty in recent months because of the federal government shutdown.

In the 2018 fiscal year, around 866,000 Louisianans on average received SNAP benefits each month, totaling $108.4 million in benefits.


Follow Sam Karlin on Twitter, @samkarlin.