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[Congressional Record: May 8, 2002 (Senate)]
[Page S3979-S4052]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access []


[ ... ]


[ ... ]
[[Page S4034]]

[ ... ]

  I would like to take this opportunity to comment more extensively on 
one of the most important aspects of the nutrition title, the 
restoration of benefits to legal immigrants. As my colleagues know, I 
remain deeply opposed to the benefit cuts to legal immigrants enacted 
as a part of the 1996 welfare law. I have worked ever since the passage 
of that law to ease the eligibility restrictions on legal immigrants in 
a wide array of programs. Immigrants are admitted into this country as 
legal permanent residents with the assumption that they will be a part 
of our communities, work and pay taxes, and serve at our nation's 
defense. It is unjust to exclude these hardworking individuals from 
access to critical work support programs and the safety net if they 
fall on hard times.
  The legal immigrant restrictions in the food stamp program were the 
harshest of all of major federal benefit programs, causing more than 
one million legal immigrants to lose eligibility. Unfortunately, 
immigrants have not been the only group affected by the food stamp 
restrictions. Over 85 percent of immigrant families are households that 
include at least one citizen child. From 1994 to 1998, 1.2 million 
immigrants left the program, mostly due to the eligibility 
restrictions. Over the same period, 1 million citizen children of 
immigrant parents also left the program, representing a 74 percent 
decline for this group.
  Immigrant advocates and emergency food providers believe that these 
legal immigrant parents are confused about their children's eligibility 
and that the parents believe if their children receive food stamps that 
it could have a negative impact on immigrant family members' 
immigration status.

[[Page S4035]]

  Children of immigrants now make up a significant share of the 
childhood poverty population. Nationally, one in four children in 
poverty have immigrant parents. In order to continue to make meaningful 
inroads in reducing child poverty, it is key to find new ways to serve 
more effectively the children of immigrants.
  Of course, the best way to resolve this problem would be to restore 
eligibility to all legal immigrants. Unfortunately, we did not have the 
resources in this farm bill to provide for such a restoration. 
Nonetheless, we have taken major strides to significantly ameliorate 
the restrictive rules. The final bill is based largely upon the 
immigrant restorations in the Senate-passed farm bill, which were 
expanded upon with overwhelming bipartisan support on the Senate floor.
  We decided that if the eligibility for legal immigrant children is 
restored the food stamp eligibility rules for children will become less 
complex and easier to explain. This should encourage immigrant parents 
to apply for benefits on behalf of their children. If states, the anti-
hunger community and the immigrant community can inform families that 
all poor children are eligible for food stamps, there will be a much 
greater chance of reaching those families confused about the current 
  Another significant component of the immigrant provision is that it 
restores benefits to qualified legal immigrant adults who have lived in 
the U.S. for 5 or more years with that status. Of course, there are 
many types of qualified immigrant statuses. It will not matter if the 
immigrant held one qualified status such as asylee and then changed 
their status to something else such as a legal permanent resident. The 
five year clock begins from the time the immigrant first held a 
qualified status.

  The adult restoration provides basic conformity in food stamp 
eligibility rules to those already in place in Medicaid, SCHIP and 
TANF. It is our hope that these new food stamp rules will make it 
easier for states to administer and for immigrants to understand. 
Finally, the legislation would allow legal immigrants receiving 
benefits under specified disability-based programs to qualify for food 
  Children will no longer be subject to sponsor deeming rules, although 
sponsor immigrant adults will continue to be subject to these rules. As 
a part of our deliberations, we reviewed USDA's recent regulations on 
sponsor deeming and found them to be an appropriate policy consistent 
with our understanding of how deeming should operate in the food stamp 
program--a balance of ensuring that needy immigrants are able to access 
food assistance while not providing assistance to immigrants who are 
being supported by their sponsors. We also appreciate that USDA was 
sensitive to not restricting food assistance to immigrants whose 
sponsors refuse to cooperate by providing requested paperwork. We do 
not expect USDA to make any changes in this area.
  When we were evaluating how to design these provisions, we placed 
great weight on the cost estimates that CBO provided for this package, 
as well as the price tag the Administration gave its own proposals in 
its FY2003 budget. Neither estimate assumed that any sponsors had to 
repay the federal government as a result of immigrants receiving food 
stamps. Under the new affidavits of support now in place, most sponsors 
are likely to be a very close family member of the immigrant's. This 
means that they are likely to live together and be a part of the same 
family unit or food stamp household.
  In all the years that I have worked on the food stamp program, 
Congress has never required food stamp households to repay benefits for 
which they were eligible. Sponsor liability should not and does not 
circumvent that principle. We do not intend for a low-income sponsor to 
incur a debt for food stamps that he or she receives along with the 
sponsored immigrants.
  Of course, we have no intention of allowing affluent sponsors to 
abdicate their responsibilities. But low-income sponsors who are a part 
of the food stamp household or family unit should not be billed for 
signing up other family members for food stamps. Consider a step-father 
who sponsored his new wife and step-child into the country some years 
ago. If he loses his job and he and his new family become eligible for 
food stamps, we want them to avail themselves of this critical 
temporary assistance. There should be no penalties for being eligible 
for and participating in the food stamp program.
  With these restorations, we will come closer to righting a great 
wrong. Immigrants and immigration are a part of the history and 
heritage of our country. I am pleased that hard working immigrants who 
fall on hard times will be able to gain access to this important food 
assistance program. No member of our society should go without enough 
to eat. This legislation moves us further toward fulfilling that goal.
  I urge my colleagues to vote for this conference report.