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Bill to Reauthorize Food Stamp Program Approved by Senate Committee

On October 25, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee approved, by voice vote, a bill (as-yet-unnumbered) to reauthorize the food stamp program and other nutrition programs through FY2012. The current authorization, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-171), expired at the end of FY2007. The House passed its version of the bill in July (see The Source, 7/27/07).

The Food Stamp Program would be renamed the “Food and Nutrition Act of 2007.” The bill would raise the current standard deduction from $134 per month to a maximum of $239 per month in FY2008, depending on family size. In FY2009 and subsequent years, the deduction would be tied to the Consumer Price Index. The standard deduction is an amount excluded from income when determining eligibility for the Food Stamp Program. The deduction was designed to exclude household operating costs, including utilities, transportation, and other inescapable living expenses. The bill also would lift the cap on dependent care expenses (currently capped at $200 per month for each child under two years of age and $175 per month for each child over two); exclude retirement accounts, qualified tuition programs, and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts from countable financial resources when determining eligibility; and index for inflation the asset limits for food stamp households (currently $2,000). Combat military pay would be excluded in determining a family’s eligibility for food assistance.

The bill would authorize $50 million per year for FY2008-2012 to create pilot programs to evaluate food assistance programs, “to improve the dietary and health status of households participating in the food and nutrition program, [and] to reduce overweight, obesity, and associated co-morbidities in the United States.” The pilot program also would encourage households to purchase more fruit and vegetables, particularly from local providers, by simplifying the electronic purchasing system. The secretary of Agriculture would be required to report to the Committees on Agriculture on the success of the pilot program at the end of FY2008. It also would establish the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship Program and the Mickey Leland International Hunger Fellowship Program to encourage “future leaders” to pursue careers in humanitarian and public service and to provide assistance to people in need. The fellowship programs would seek public policy solutions to the challenges of hunger and poverty, and provide training and development opportunities.

A major goal of the legislation would be to reduce hunger in the United States to, or below, two percent, and to reduce food insecurity to, or below, six percent, by 2010. The secretary of Agriculture would be required to “conduct a study of major matters relating to the problem of hunger in the United States” and to submit the report to the Committees on Agriculture one year after the bill’s enactment. It also would create Hunger-Free Community Collaborative Grants for nonprofit organizations and public food service programs to, among other provisions, “prevent, monitor, and treat children in the community experiencing hunger or poor nutrition.” The grants would be authorized at $50 million per year for FY2008-2012.

The legislation would extend through FY2012 the Temporary Emergency Assistance Food Program (TEFAP); the availability of surplus commodities for nutrition programs under the Older Americans Act, child nutrition programs, and food banks; and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which provides commodity packages to low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, other new mothers up to one year postpartum, infants, children up to six years of age, and elderly people who are at least 60 years old.

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