- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

House Republican leaders want to know more about a Bush administration plan to reopen the food stamp program to immigrants, but initial reaction to the idea is that it is "troubling," a House aide said this week.
The $17 billion food stamp program is one of several federal welfare programs that have been off-limits to most immigrants since the 1996 welfare reform law.
"A lot of folks still stand behind the reforms of 1996," which ended food stamps to most immigrants unless they had worked here for 10 years, were in the military, were recent refugees or had sought asylum, said an aide to House leadership who asked not to be identified.
Changing the food stamp program so that work doesn't matter "is something we're going to look very closely at," the aide said.
Last week, an Agriculture Department official said the Bush administration was planning on reopening the food stamp program to legal immigrants who had lived but not necessarily worked in the United States for five years.
The change is expected to add 363,000 people to the food stamp rolls by 2006 and cost $2.1 billion over 10 years.
The White House's approach is welcomed by state leaders, liberal advocacy groups and senators from both sides of the aisle, all of whom have called for a loosening of the food stamp eligibility rules.
"Legal immigrants are respected and contributing members of our society and they deserve this assistance," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and co-sponsor of a bill to restore food stamps to immigrants.
A spokesman for the House Committee on Agriculture said its members were "waiting to see what was proposed in the president's budget," including how the $2.1 billion change would be funded. A House bill with food stamp reforms does not reopen the program to immigrants.
Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who had testified to Congress that too many American-born children of immigrant parents didn't receive food stamps because of the confusing rules, called the Bush plan "terrific progress."
However, other observers see the plan as fiscally irresponsible and contrary to welfare reform's successful work-first philosophy.
Unwed mothers and the elderly form the two largest populations of food stamp beneficiaries, said Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector.
If the food stamp program is reopened to immigrants who have merely lived but never worked in the United States, it sends the message that people can "come to the United States, have a child out of wedlock and we'll support you," said Mr. Rector. This is contrary to the 1996 reform's work-first, be-responsible focus, he said, adding that the program would be improved if it established work rules like the cash welfare programs did.
"When we're in a recession, the last thing we want to see is more benefits for noncitizens," said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has called for tougher immigrant sponsorship policies.
"There's no public support" for reopening the food stamp program, Mr. Stein added. "If noncitizens want food stamps, they should become citizens."

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