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House GOP Blocks Food Stamps for Noncitizens

April 11, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Republicans on Wednesday blocked President Bush's election-year proposal to restore food stamps to low-income noncitizens who have lived in the country at least five years.

The plan is popular with groups that represent Latinos, a voting bloc the White House has targeted.

But a House-Senate conference committee that is negotiating a farm bill set aside the food stamp issue after House GOP members insisted Wednesday on a much more restrictive plan than the president wanted.

"We ought to target those people who are most in need of assistance," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Food stamps for legal immigrants were cut off when Congress overhauled the welfare system in 1996.

Bush's proposal, which was included in a farm bill passed by the Senate in February, would have restored benefits to an estimated 363,000 people at a cost of $2.1 billion over the next 10 years.

House Republicans want to take most of that money and shift it into agricultural research and subsidy programs for farmers and landowners.

Under their plan, immigrants would have to prove they had worked in the country for at least five years and could not receive food stamps for more than two years. Under the White House plan, there would be no time limit on benefits.

House Republicans also would deny benefits to any immigrants who have ever been in the country illegally for more than a year. Federal and state officials say that curb would be very difficult to enforce.

"It's hard to see why they [Republicans] are digging in their heels," said Ellen Vollinger, a spokeswoman for the Food Research and Action Center, an advocacy group.

Farm workers, whose jobs are seasonal, would be among the biggest beneficiaries of the White House plan, experts say.

House members of the conference committee voted 8 to 6 along party lines to support the GOP proposal over the White House plan.

The GOP move would break an agreement that leaders of the conference committee reached in March on overall spending levels for various sections of the farm bill.

That agreement earmarked $6.4 billion in new spending for nutrition programs over the next 10 years. Overall, the legislation would increase spending for agriculture and nutrition programs by $73.5 billion over the decade.

The negotiators are trying to merge a farm bill that passed the House last fall with the rival version approved by the Senate.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said he did not expect much progress before next week.

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