Update Food Stamps School Lunches

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chool-lunchAs this publication goes to press and the Congress and Administration again go to the wire over the issue of government spending (with a second shutdown a distinct possibility), the manner by which the country provides for its less fortunate is worth a quick look. Both food stamps and the school lunch program continue to be the focus of attention inside the Beltway. The following is a brief wrap up:

As part of USDA’s continue effort of cut abuse and increase the efficiency of the food stamp program, a second state, Texas, has replaced the traditional coupons with the EBT (electronic benefit transfer) debit cards. Maryland has embraced this system with both state and Federal officials trumpeting EBT’s success. Congress, as part of its debate earlier in the year, has endorsed this plan for all states.

Meanwhile, participation in the food stamp program showed a decline for fiscal 1995 (which ended Sept. 30) over a year ago, with 26.6 million people receiving benefits. This compares with the average monthly rate for fiscal 1994 which showed 27.5 million availing themselves of this program. Officials attribute the improving economy with the drop, with USDA’s Dan Glickman adding that “nearly a million people who needed food stamps a year ago now are able to make it without help.”

However, September (the most recent month for which figures are available) revealed an increase of almost 57,000 – at 26,047,594 – over the August level. This marginal rise in enrollment is not usual, said the Agriculture Secretary, as the end of warm weather often brings a slight increase in participation.

The real action was on Capitol Hill and revolves around the school lunch program where major differences exist in how this program should be administered – by the Federal government or by the states in the form of block grants. This dispute has threatened the House/Senate reconciliation process for Welfare legislation, which is deadlocked over this issue. Washington observers see the conflict as representative of the ideological positions of some of the newer Congressional conservatives – championed by long-time school lunch advocate Rep. Bill Goodling – who favors giving more authority to the states and the more traditional views that the Federal government can better care for the nation’s needy – as espoused by Sen. Richard Lugar. And throw a healthy dose of presidential politics into the mix – Sen. Lugar seeks the Republican nomination – and you have a recipe for a Congressional shoving match. Stay tuned.

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