- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

The nation's largest nutrition-assistance program is expected to be reauthorized in the House this month with modest changes and bigger funding.
But the food-stamp program is likely to attract wider debate in the Senate, where Democrats and an array of supporters are eager to reopen the program to legal immigrants.
In March, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, laid out the issue when he introduced a nutrition-assistance bill for poor seniors and working families.
"For 30 years prior to welfare reform, food stamps were available to legal immigrants, and as today's Urban Institute report confirms, legal immigrants are now among those most in need of nutritional assistance," said Mr. Kennedy, who heads the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The Urban Institute report said that nearly 40 percent of immigrants' children live in households "that have difficulty putting enough food on the table each month," said Mr. Kennedy.
Eighty percent of the children of immigrants are U.S. citizens, he added, but the immigrant status of their parents prevents them from receiving aid. The Senate nutrition bill, which has support from at least two Republican senators, "restores eligibility for food stamps to all legal immigrants" as "a matter of fundamental fairness and basic need," Mr. Kennedy said.
Hunger-relief advocates have spent time this summer encouraging senators to adopt Mr. Kennedy's position. The National Conference of State Legislatures and the American Public Human Services Association, which represent state leaders, have come out in favor of giving legal immigrants food stamps again.
The idea is not likely to be welcomed in the House, however.
The 1996 welfare-reform law withdrew many U.S. welfare benefits, including food stamps, from most legal immigrants. House Republicans, who pushed for the changes, cited studies showing that rate of growth in programs was higher for immigrants than citizens.
They also argued that U.S. immigration laws forbid newcomers from seeking public welfare and instead require them to have sponsors to care for them.
"Our entire history is guided by the fact that we believe that people should not come in to be wards of the government," said a House aide who spoke on background. Even during the days of Ellis Island, he said, immigrants had to prove they had $25 and the ability to be self-supporting or they were sent back to their homelands.
The House food-stamp provisions, which are contained in the Agriculture Committee's farm bill, increases food-stamp spending by $3.25 billion over 10 years, simplifies eligibility applications and extends benefits for six months for people moving from welfare to work.
The bill, however, doesn't reopen the program to legal immigrants, and that isn't expected to change before it comes up for a floor vote in mid-September, said the aide.
A core part of welfare reform is "the idea of personal responsibility for yourself and for those you claim responsibility for," he said. "Reversing that would be a major setback to the advancements of welfare reform."
A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said that the agency has not yet taken a position on the issue. "We are developing our principles and guidance" and "expect that it will be done by September," he said.
In May, 17.2 million people received food stamps. This is 37 percent lower than the peak year of 1994, when there was an average of 27.4 million recipients a month.
Meanwhile, 34 states and the District are making it easier for workers leaving welfare to retain their food stamps, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) said in a July report.
In the past, families could be dropped from the food-stamp program if they owned a vehicle worth more than $4,500.
Maryland, the District and 13 states are planning to exclude the value of all vehicles when deciding if a family is eligible for food stamps, the CBPP said. However, Virginia is one of 16 states that has not changed its rules.

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