The Senate approved several other amendments to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, but eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps -- already a partisan issue in Washington -- has also split Senate Democrats, Politico said.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has been leading opposition to attempts to weaken the so-called heat-and-eat provision that allows people receiving federal help with heating bills to participate in SNAP. About a dozen states have used the provision to allow people to get food stamp assistance by giving them nominal heating assistance, Politico reported.
Those receiving $1 of federal heating assistance have been eligible for food stamps under a change in the law following the 2008 financial collapse.
Advocates of federal spending cuts call the linkage of food stamps to heating assistance a loophole, the Capitol Hill publication said, but Gillibrand and U.S. Roman Catholic bishops say it helps feed people who are already having trouble staying warm in cold weather.
"Once a program is set up, advocates for the poor and hungry will use every provision and loophole to get food to those in need," Thomas Reese, a Jesuit scholar at Georgetown University, told Politico. "This is appropriate granted the end they are seeking: feeding the hungry."
Food-assistance advocates are concerned the development will help Republicans who want to sever the link between food stamps and heating assistance.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who heads the Agriculture Committee, has proposed requiring a higher threshold of heating assistance before recipients can automatically receive SNAP assistance.