September 22, 2005

Senate blocks privatization of food stamp work

By Charles Abbott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate passed a

$100 billion Agriculture Department annual funding bill on

Thursday that would prevent states from privatizing the

stamp program by sending some administrative jobs to

call centers.

Approved 97-2, the bill also would ban "downer" livestock

from being used as food -- a precaution against mad cow

-- and prevent imports of Kobe beef from Japan until Tokyo

ended a 19-month-old ban on U.S. beef.

Lawmakers now must work out differences with the House

version of the USDA funding bill for fiscal 2006, which

on October 1.

Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin sponsored the ban on replacing

state workers with outside firms to handle food stamp

applications. Otherwise, he said, low-paid workers in an

overseas call center might decide if poor Americans got

Texas has requested permission to privatize food stamps as

part of an overhaul of welfare programs.

Anti-hunger activists say the state wants to close dozens

of local offices and do more of the work by telephone,
aided by

thousands of hours of donated labor from volunteer workers.

Roughly 25 million Americans receive food stamps each

month, helping them buy food.

Food stamps and other nutrition programs for poor Americans

account for more than half of the USDA's annual budget. The

remainder of the budget goes for crop subsidies for

food aid to foreign countries, farmland conservation, meat

plant inspections and other farm-related programs.

The Food Research and Action Center said privatization

could mean poorer service and more errors in food stamp

applications, which ask detailed and complicated questions.


*FACTBOX-Highlights of USDA 2006 funding