WASHINGTON, D.C. - The House Committee on Agriculture today approved instructions for budget reconciliation, committing $1.5 billion in new food stamp funds as required by the balanced budget agreement, but also allowing states to privatize administrative functions in the food stamp program, just weeks after the Clinton Administration rejected a similar request from the state of Texas.
The House Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 1998 (H.Con. Res. 84) requires Congress to spend an additional $1.5 billion for food stamps from FY98 to FY02 - on top of the $26 billion already spent on the food stamp program annually. The Committee on Agriculture, as the committee with jurisdiction over the food stamp program, voted today to distribute $920 million of the additional $1.5 billion to state job training and workfare efforts over the next five years.
The Committee also adopted an amendment, authored by Larry Combest (R-TX), Chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource Conservation, and Research, to allow states to privatize the administrative functions of the food stamp program. Rep. Combest and Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Smith (R-OR) have cosponsored a bill, H.R. 1709, to allow for privatization of welfare's administrative functions.
"We've lived up to our end of the budget agreement, but we've also taken the first step in moving scarce federal funding from the bureaucracy and into the hands of the folks who need it," said Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Smith (R-OR). "The food stamp program is intended to provide the needy with nutritional help. It ought not be a full employment program for bureaucrats, and I hope and expect there will be substantial support for that position in both the House and Senate."
"Texas proposed doing this as part of its welfare reform efforts, but was blocked by the Clinton Administration. I am disappointed the president would not help Texas as he had indicated some months ago. By including this amendment, we will ensure that Texas and every other state has the maximum flexibility, choosing the best way to deliver food stamps to needy families," Combest said.
Consistent with the budget agreement, the Committee also voted to permit states to exempt up to 15% of their able-bodied food stamp recipients from the welfare reform bill's food stamp work requirement - in addition to the provision in last year's welfare reform bill that allows states to waive the work requirement in regions with high unemployment. Under current law, able-bodied, 18 to 50-year-old food stamp recipients with no dependents can receive food stamps for three months in any three year period. After exhausting the three months, those recipients must either work 20 hours per week or enter a job training or workfare program in order to continue receiving food stamps.
The Committee on Agriculture will transmit its food stamp spending recommendations to the Budget Committee for inclusion within upcoming budget reconciliation legislation.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Combest represents Texas' 19th Congressional District, which includes the Panhandle, South Plains, and the Permian Basin.