Mayor Article

New Bills Seek to Close Gaps in Food Stamp Law

Two bills, Kennedy-Specter/Walsh Hunger Relief Act (HRA) (S. 1805, H.R. 3192) and Graham/Coyne-Levin Food Stamp Outreach and Research for Kids Act (FORK Act) (S. 1800, H.R. 2738) would address problems of hunger and food insecurity. The first - HRA - would close gaps in the Food Stamp law, including those affecting vulnerable legal immigrants, households needing reliable vehicles, and families with children with high shelter costs, and would boost funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a lifeline for thousands of food pantries and other emergency assistance programs. The second measure - FORK Act - would enhance outreach and monitoring in the Food Stamp Program, steps that are needed to address problems among those presently eligible but not served by the Food Stamp Program as well as those who would be made newly eligible under the HRA.

The HRA and FORK Act take several important steps in alleviating hunger. First, HRA builds on the bipartisan down payment the 1998 Agricultural Research Act made in restorations of benefits for needy legal immigrants and restores food stamp eligibility to all otherwise eligible legal immigrants.

HRA also updates food stamp rules by allowing states the option of using the same rules to count the value of a vehicle under both TANF and Food Stamp Programs. In addition, HRA helps low-income families with children with high shelter costs. For example, it would allow food stamp allotments to more accurately reflect actual household need, the Food Stamp Program takes into account a household's shelter expenses when determining the household's food stamp allotment. The Program does this by allowing households to deduct shelter costs from their income and raises the food stamp shelter deduction cap to $340 per month over four years and then indexes it to inflation.

In addition, HRA bolsters TEFAP, which since 1983 has leveraged private and volunteer resources in communities across the country to meet short-term nutrition needs of families in crisis and provided an outlet for excess government-owned commodities by authorizing additional appropriations of $100 million over five years for commodity purchasing and food distribution costs, approximately 10 percent more than present spending.

And finally, the Food Stamp Outreach and Research for Kids Act would provide grants to state and local governments and community-based organizations to educate families about food stamp eligibility, improve caseworker training, strengthen USDA's on-site inspections of local food stamp offices, and authorize other measure for effective outreach and implementation. Both bills have wide bipartisan support and would go a long way in closing the gaps in the food safety net programs.

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