CHN: Farm Bill Passes Full House, Includes Food Stamp Reauthorization
Senate Begins Expedited Work on its Version
By a vote of 291-120, the House passed its version of the Farm Bill (HR 2646) on October 5. The Farm Bill includes a reauthorization of the Food Stamp Program, set to expire in October 2002.
The House bill will reauthorize the Food Stamp Program for ten years and includes a $3.3 billion increase for program improvements. Advocates are concerned however that these increases will not be enough to meet the growing need. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that nationwide food stamp caseloads have increased since July 2001, possibly due to the slowing economy.
The measure also contains benefit increases for selected households and other provisions that are likely to make the program more accessible to low-income Americans seeking nutritional assistance. One such provision increases the standard deduction used to formulate a household’s benefit level, which would increase benefits for families of four or more by excluding more of their income. Almost two-thirds of the benefits from this change would go to families with incomes below 75 percent of the poverty line. Another of the bill’s provisions would extend the time limit for receiving transitional food stamps from three to six months for those participants moving from welfare to work.
The House bill does not contain provisions restoring eligibility to legal immigrants or certain other benefit provisions included in the “Nutrition Assistance for Working Families Act” (S 583, HR 2142). Eligibility for legal immigrants was cut with the enactment of the 1996 welfare reform law. Although some food stamp benefits were restored to legal immigrants in 1998, many families are still not eligible for assistance.
The Senate has yet to mark up its version of the Farm Bill, although hearings on this measure were held throughout the summer. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) has expedited efforts to finalize the Senate version and hopes to have a bipartisan package within the next two weeks. Senate Agriculture Committee members are currently taking part in intensive negotiations over the bill, including the specifics of the nutrition title. Immigrant restorations and other provisions of S 583 continue to be part of the discussions. No dollar figures have been determined as of yet, but preliminary policy and funding decisions could be made by early next week.