Food Stamp Priorities for 1999
Legal Immigrants: Last June, the President signed a bill which restored federal food stamp eligibility for 250,000 legal immigrants--including most children and disabled immigrants and many elderly immigrants. Food policy and immigrant advocates are pushing for an expansion of this coverage to enable another 15,000 elderly legal immigrants who entered the country before August 22, 1996 (when the welfare reform bill was signed into law) and who have since reached the age of 65.
Vehicle Allowance: The anti-hunger community is also pushing for an increase in the vehicle allowance under food stamp rules. Currently, an individual may own a vehicle worth no more than $4,650 to qualify for food stamps. For many recipients, especially in rural areas, a reliable automobile is essential in enabling them to look for and retain work. A vehicle allowance of $4,500 was set in 1977 and has only increased $150 over 22 years. It is important that the vehicle limit be raised.
Participation Rates: Anti-hunger advocates are concerned about the drop in participation rates in the food stamp program. Several factors may be at play including a slight improvement in the overall unemployment rate. However, many individuals, including childless able-bodied adults age 18-50 and many legal immigrants have gone off the rolls. In addition, there has been some confusion under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program established by the welfare law. Because of varying state TANF rules regarding time-limits, work requirements and other issues, many food stamp recipients are unclear about their eligibility status under the food stamp program. It is important that agencies which serve low-income people instruct them that regardless of the states' TANF rules, they may still be entitled to food stamps.
As the welfare reform debate began, the bishops laid out a set of principles and priorities to guide true welfare reform. Among those priorities was preserving a safety net for poor children and families. They said that: "We cannot support reform that destroys the structures, ends entitlements, and eliminates resources that have provided an essential safety net for vulnerable children or permits states to reduce their commitment in this area. Also, we cannot support punitive approaches that target immigrants, even legal residents, and take away the minimal benefits that they now receive." The current approach of time-limits, caps on benefits for additional children in some states and the enormous cuts in food stamps, especially for legal immigrants are still of concern to the bishops. Restoring some of these benefits is a priority.
What You Can Do
Urge your Senators and Representative to work for policies that will:
- Restore benefits to vulnerable legal immigrants, especially the elderly;
- Increase the vehicle allowance in the food stamp program.
Several key websites have more complete information about food stamps and legal immigrants:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: www.usda.gov/fcs/stamps
- Food Research and Action Center: www.frac.org/html/news/50statetest.html
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: www.cbpp.org/71098fs.html
For Further Information Contact:
Dan Misleh: Policy Advisor, Office of Domestic Social Development, USCCB, 202-541-3190; fax: 541-3339; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.