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Food stamps fodder for farm bill debate

  |   June 19, 2012 at 7:49 PM
WASHINGTON, June 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Tuesday rejected a farm bill amendment that would have restricted eligibility for food stamps to those already receiving cash assistance.

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.

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