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Debate over food stamp provision

April 18, 2002|By MATT YOUNG

Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — As they try to find a compromise on a new farm bill to fund agriculture, conservation and anti-hunger programs, House Republicans have butted heads with senators over giving legal immigrants more food stamp benefits.

The House and Senate passed different versions of the farm bill and now a committee of House and Senate members is trying to resolve differences so that each chamber can approve the same version of the bill.

Senators of both parties, backed by President Bush, proposed allowing legal immigrants food stamp benefits as long as they had lived in the United States five years, said Ellen Vollinger, legal director for the Food Research and Action Center.


The Senate version of the farm bill includes a provision that would add about 360,000 legal immigrants to the food stamp program. But House Republicans rejected the proposal, Vollinger said, choosing to offer their own more limited food stamp plan.

Vollinger called it ‘‘a watered-down restoration'' of legal immigrants' benefits.

The House proposal, spearheaded by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., would have mandated that legal immigrants have lived and worked in the United States for five years to be eligible, limited food stamp eligibility to two years and disallowed benefits to immigrants who lived illegally in the United States for a year or more.

The Senate members of the conference committee voted down that proposal. But the issue isn't dead yet.

Keith Williams, a spokesman for the House Agriculture Committee, said the food stamp issue is still being negotiated between House and Senate members.

‘‘Obviously things are still very much in flux,'' said a spokeswoman for Goodlatte.

Under the 1996 welfare law, most legal immigrants are not eligible for federally funded food stamps unless they have worked in the United States for 10 years or have served in the U.S. military.

In response, California began its own food stamp program, said James Semmes, Imperial County director of social services. His statistics showed 806 legal aliens were receiving state food stamps in Imperial County because they didn't qualify for the federal program.

In the event the federal program allows more legal immigrants to partake, ‘‘It would eliminate the state program,'' he said.

‘‘By the changes that were made in 1996, all (Congress) did was shift the costs to the states,'' said Sherry Steisel, human services director for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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