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
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,
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