CHN: House Enacts Long-Overdue Food Stamp Improvements Senate Action Expected After August Recess
Improvements in the Food Stamp Program that would stop benefits from shrinking each year and begin to make up lost ground were part of the farm bill enacted by the House on July 27. Food stamp benefits for an average family will rise $5 a month in 2008 if the legislation moves to final passage. In all, the Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act of 2007 (H.R. 2419) adds $4 billion over 5 years to nutrition programs, including Food Stamps and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which distributes food to food banks nationwide. The legislation passed 231 to 191 (roll call vote: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2007/roll756.xml), with 19 Republicans joining 212 Democrats to vote in favor.
The House bill addresses problems that have been neglected for years. For example, the amount families are allowed to deduct from their income when calculating the monthly benefit has been frozen since 1995. As a consequence, a typical working family in 2008 will receive $24 less each month than they would have if the standard deduction had been adjusted for inflation each year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (http://www.cbpp.org/7-24-07fa.htm). The House bill will adjust the deduction, so that by 2012, a typical family would see their monthly benefit increase by $11 because of this change. In addition, the current cap on deductions for child care expenses will be eliminated, so families whose incomes are stretched thin because of high child care costs will receive more help from Food Stamps.
The bill also increases the Food Stamp minimum benefit, now only $10 a month – a figure that has remained unchanged for 3 decades. Single individuals, mostly elderly or people with disabilities, are most likely to receive only the minimum benefit; it will rise to $16 and then will increase at the same rate as food prices in future years.
The bill allows people to save more without being disqualified from receiving assistance. Now, households with elderly or disabled members may have up to $3,000 in savings or assets; all others are limited to $2,000. H.R. 2419 starts adjusting these figures for inflation (they have not changed since 1986), and also specifically exempts certain retirement and education savings from the limit.
Families of military personnel in combat zones will not have to count combat pay in determining their Food Stamp eligibility or benefits.
Funding for emergency food purchases under TEFAP rises from the current $140 million a year to $250 in FY 2008, with further increases adjusted for inflation in subsequent years. Emergency food providers had sought such an increase because the supply of food from other sources has been greatly reduced recently.
One of the biggest sticking points for the legislation was the source of funding for the $4 billion in nutrition improvements. Rep. Doggett (D-TX) identified the closing of a tax loophole for foreign corporations who do business in the United States but evade taxes by sheltering their earnings in overseas tax havens. Doggett’s provision would raise $7.5 billion over 10 years. Opponents claimed that closing this loophole would discourage investment in the United States. But the abusive behavior of foreign corporations in hiding U.S. earnings was noted by the Bush Administration’s Treasury Department in 2002, which cited the unfair advantage these companies have over U.S. businesses, calling it a “serious issue with significant consequences for U.S. businesses and the U.S. economy.” (http://www.ustreas.gov/press/releases/po3156.htm).
The Senate farm bill has not yet been approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee. As with so much else on the Congressional agenda for the fall, the farm, nutrition, conservation and other programs within the farm bill must be reauthorized by September 30. Advocates will be raising the importance of helping the 35 million pe