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House: Restore food stamp benefits to immigrants

April 25, 2002|By MATT YOUNG

Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — The House of Representatives Tuesday strongly urged members of a committee working on the final version of the farm bill to accept a broad restoration of food stamp benefits for legal immigrants.

The House and Senate passed different versions of the farm bill and a committee of House and Senate members is trying to resolve differences so that each chamber can approve the same version of the bill. The Senate's version gives more food stamp benefits to legal immigrants, and the House voted 244-171 to instruct its members of the committee to accept that version.

However, the members aren't required to follow the instruction.

‘‘Conferees should heed the word of the majority of the people's representatives and support full restoration (of benefits),'' said Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, in a news release.


Under current law, immigrant children and disabled immigrants in the country legally must have entered the United States by Aug. 22, 1996, to be eligible for food stamps. Legal adult immigrants must have worked for 10 years or have served in the military to establish food stamp eligibility.

The Senate version of the bill drops the time restrictions on children and the disabled and scales down the work requirement to four years.

In weeks past, Senate conferees appealed to their House counterparts to lift many restrictions on food stamp eligibility for legal immigrants. At one point senators simply proposed giving legal immigrants food stamp benefits as long as they had lived in the United States five years, a measure backed by President Bush.

They were repelled by House farm bill conference committee members, perhaps most fervently by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., who introduced more limited benefit measures.

Still, Ellen Vollinger, legal director for the Food Research and Action Center, which advocates to end hunger in this country, said the restoration of benefits has bipartisan support, noting 43 Republicans joined almost all Democrats in support of the House vote Tuesday night.

That vote seems to shore up support for the Senate side. Marisa Demeo, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued California immigrants would benefit from more lenient federal food stamp requirements even though the state already has its own food assistance program.

‘‘States have a tight budget,'' Demeo said, and might eliminate their food stamp programs at any time. A more inclusive federal program would be more secure, she said.

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