CHN: Senator Lugar Introduces Farm Bill with Strong Nutrition Title

Senate Agriculture Chairman Harkin To Release Plan Next Week
On October 18, Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced his proposal for a comprehensive Farm Bill (S 1571) encompassing agricultural and commodity programs, in addition to food stamp legislation. While Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) has yet to release his proposal, the Senate Agriculture Committee may begin a mark-up of its version of the Farm Bill sometime next week. The House passed its version of the Farm Bill (HR 2646) in early October, which includes a provision to reauthorize the Food Stamp Program.

The nutrition title of the House bill will reauthorize the Food Stamp Program for ten years and includes a $3.6 billion increase for program improvements. Advocates are concerned, however, that these increases will not be enough to meet the growing need for food stamps. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that nationwide food stamp caseloads have increased since July 2001, possibly due to the slowing economy.

Unlike the 10-year House plan, Lugar’s bill is a 5-year reauthorization package. Overall funding for the measure is lower than that provided in the House-passed Farm Bill; however, the dollars earmarked for the nutrition title would be higher than the House version ($3.4 billion in new five-year funding compared to $3.3 billion in new ten-year funding allocated in the House plan).

Senator Lugar’s bill builds on Food Stamp Program items in HR 2646, including a six-month transitional benefits option for states to extend food stamp benefits to those moving from welfare to work. The Lugar plan, like the House bill, also includes improved standard deduction guidelines, and changes in measuring states’ management of the program. The measure also adds provisions that address serious gaps in program coverage, a provision that is not contained in the House bill.

In addition to these program improvements and higher food stamp funding, the Lugar bill includes important program changes such as a partial restoration of food stamp benefits to legal immigrants. The bill would restore eligibility to legal immigrants who have shown either 16 or more quarters work history or at least five years residency in the United States.

Lugar’s proposal will also allow benefits for jobless, childless adults seeking work for six out of 12 months; exclude the value of household vehicles while determining eligibility; allow states to offer joint processing procedures for persons applying for SSI benefits; replace the certification period with an eligibility review period; and make several changes to further simplify program rules.

Chairman Harkin has been working with other Democrats on the Agriculture Committee to develop their own Farm Bill proposal. Recent reports indicate that Harkin may release the plan within a few days and the full Committee may start considering portions of the Farm Bill next week. The timeline for congressional consideration of Farm Bill legislation remains complicated. House Agriculture Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) set the ball in motion early last spring and was determined to complete a Farm Bill during this session of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Tom Dascle (D-SD) has also spoken publicly in favor of a Farm Bill this year. This week the Bush administration, which backs the Lugar plan, asked Congress to hold off on considering a Farm Bill until next year when more money may be available. However, this latest request does not seem to be stalling congressional momentum to pass legislation.

Food and Nutrition