- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

House and Senate negotiators, as part of a deal on the farm bill, have agreed to restore food-stamp benefits to legal immigrants that were eliminated in the 1996 welfare reforms.
The two sides have been trying to hash out differences in the bills that passed each chamber and the deal, announced yesterday, closely resembles the Senate's original bill. It would restore benefits to legal immigrants after they have been living in the United States for five years. It would also restore benefits immediately to legal immigrant children and disabled persons.
That goes even further than President Bush's original proposal, made in his fiscal 2003 budget, which would have restored only the five-year bar for benefits. Under the 1996 welfare law, legal immigrants are ineligible for food stamps unless they can show they have been continuously employed in the United States for 10 years.
The deal could still fall apart, depending on final spending numbers. But if it sticks, the final bill will go back to both houses for approval before going to the president.
The fight to restore benefits had pitted Mr. Bush, the Senate and House Democrats against House Republican leaders. House Democrats this week proposed a motion instructing the House negotiators to support the Senate position, and yesterday they said the 244-171 vote on the nonbinding motion was a turning point.
"The conferees heeded the words of the majority of Congress and finally recognized that it would be undemocratic to not include my provision," said Rep. Joe Baca, Texas Democrat, who sponsored the motion.
A majority of Republicans voted against the resolution, and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, had said before the vote that negotiators would act without regard to the resolution. But yesterday Democrats said the vote proved to negotiators how much support there was for the provision.
"The vote on the floor this week sent a strong and powerful message to Congress that we need to treat legal residents fairly, and our efforts prevailed," said Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. "Legal immigrants pay taxes, contribute to the growth of our nation and their children defend our country. We should not ignore them when they face hard times simply because they are not U.S. citizens."
Opponents of the provision, however, said the bill makes irrelevant the part of green card applications in which the immigrant's sponsor promises that the immigrant won't become dependent on the government.
The chief House negotiator on the issue, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, had offered an alternative proposal that would have extended food stamp benefits to legal immigrant children and the disabled only. But Senate negotiators, Democrats and Republicans, rejected that offer.
Yesterday, Mr. Goodlatte's reaction to the deal was terse: "The president has been very determined in his efforts to obtain food stamps for legal immigrants, and he has been successful," he said through a spokeswoman.
But the food-stamps concession was one of the few things the president got in the bill. Conferees rejected the administration's broader provision to overhaul federal subsidy programs.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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