Senate Democrats

SENATE DEMOCRATS CALL ON BUSH TO CLARIFY POSITION ON FOOD STAMPS ELIGIBILITY

Washington, DCSenate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Senator Tom Harkin, Ranking Member in the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry today released the following letter urging President Bush to clarify his position on food stamp eligibility for legal immigrants. In 2002 the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act successfully restored food stamp eligibility to legal immigrants who had paid taxes and resided in the United States for at least five years. President Bush supported restoring these benefits then, but he has remained silent now, while the House of Representatives passes a budget reconciliation bill that significantly restricts food stamp eligibility for legal immigrants.

The text of the letter follows below:

December 12, 2005

The Honorable George W. Bush

President of the United States

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As work continues in Congress on budget reconciliation legislation, we write to urge that you and your administration make a clear statement opposing any reductions to food assistance for low income Americans. We are requesting this clarification because initial indications from your administration regarding this issue are unclear and raise questions about whether your current position is consistent with your previous views.

On November 17, the Office of Management and Budget released the Statement of Administration Policy regarding H.R.4241, the House budget reconciliation measure, which we take to be a comprehensive statement of your views on that bill. Notably missing from the Statement of Administration Policy is any objection to a provision in the House bill that would change existing law and deny federal food assistance (food stamps) to certain low-income legal immigrant Americans who have resided in our country for more than five years. The House bill would set the minimum residency requirement for this assistance at seven years and thereby deny food assistance to some 70,000 low-income Americans. This change in the law would seriously erode policy you have strongly supported in the past.

In large measure because of your vocal backing, the 2002 farm bill included provisions to ameliorate the harshest remaining aspects of a prohibition against food stamp benefits for legal immigrant Americans adopted in 1996. Previous legislation had restored eligibility for these benefits to legal immigrants who are elderly, children, disabled or asylum seekers and meet all the other eligibility requirements, but it left in place the total prohibition as to individuals outside these categories. With strong bipartisan support, the farm bill changed the law as you had called for to remove the prohibition on food stamp benefits for legal immigrant Americans who have legally resided in the United States for not less than five years.

As you are aware, in order to receive this assistance, the individual or family must meet all of the usual eligibility criteria applicable to any American, such as lack of income, meeting work requirements or having responsibility for children. Indeed, the vast majority of the benefit from the farm bill’s provision has gone to low-income working families with children. You stated the justification for this change in the law very well when you signed the farm bill: “It means that you can have a head of a family who’s been working hard, been here for five years, been a part of the economy, been legally working. And that person falls on hard times, our government should help them with food stamps.”

Given your strong prior support for this policy, you can understand why we are puzzled that the Statement of Administration Policy on H.R.4241 omits any statement of opposition to reversing policy that you strongly supported in the 2002 farm bill.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, our nation’s attention was riveted – to a greater degree perhaps than any time in decades – on the crushing hardships and indignities that confront millions of low-income Americans on a daily basis. We Americans were appalled by images reminding us that fellow citizens endure such circumstances here in our own country. You spoke eloquently about our responsibility to help Americans in need: “We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality.” We firmly believe in the moral vision you expressed with those words and that reductions in food assistance to low-income Americans as being considered in budget reconciliation legislation is completely inconsistent with that vision.

For these reasons, we urge you publicly to inform Congressional leaders working on the budget reconciliation measure that you oppose any erosion or reversal of your policy enacted in the 2002 farm bill restoring eligibility for food stamp benefits to certain legal immigrant Americans, as well as any other reductions in food assistance to low-income Americans. Given the congressional timetable, it is critical that you take such action without delay.

We are grateful for your attention and earliest response to this very serious matter.

Sincerely yours,

Harry Reid, Democratic Leader

Tom Harkin, Ranking Democratic Member Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

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