|Lawmakers vote to allow privatizing US food stamps
Tue Oct 25, 2005
By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House and Senate negotiators working on a $100
billion agriculture spending bill voted on Tuesday to allow states to
privatize the food stamp program, which helps 25 million people put
food on the table monthly.
When they adjourned for the night, negotiators had yet to vote on a
House proposal to delay for two years a requirement for foodmakers to
put country-of-origin labels on red meat.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, said she believed panel leaders
would use the recess to strip out language banning federal inspection
of horse slaughter. Proponents say the ban would save 100,000 horses a
year from being killed to provide horsemeat for diners overseas.
The so-called conference committee has the chore of writing a final,
compromise version of bills passed by the House and Senate to fund the
Agriculture Department and related agencies this fiscal year. The
compromise bill then will be presented to each chamber for passage with
no amendments allowed.
Although Senate negotiators voted 9-8 to erect barriers to letting
private firms take over food-stamp office work, the House side rejected
the idea, 9-6. Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, said the vote
effectively killed his idea of preventing privatization without proof
the change would work.
Texas has requested permission to privatize food stamps as part of an
overhaul of its welfare programs. Antihunger activists say Texas wants
to close dozens of local offices and do more of the work by telephone,
aided by thousands of hours of donated labor from charities and other
"How many poor people are going to go on the Internet to apply for food
stamps?" asked Harkin in arguing that relying on call centers or
electronic applications would discourage participation.
Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said the government should
encourage experiments that could streamline service and save money.
Montana Sen. Conrad Burns said he would try to keep on track a law that
requires country-of-origin labels on red meat beginning in late 2006.
The House, which delayed mandatory labels once before, wants a two-year
delay, which would make meat labeling a potential issue for the 2007
update of U.S. farm subsidy law.
"I say it's the law. Write the rule and let it go forward," said Burns,
Both chambers voted earlier this year to withdraw federal inspection of
horse slaughter, which would prevent sale of the meat for human
consumption. Rep. Henry Bonilla, Texas Republican and chairman of the
negotiating committee, refused to give Landrieu assurance the provision
would stay in the bill.
"If you have the votes to overturn (it) ... I would ask my colleagues
to be brave enough to do it in public," said Landrieu. Afterward, she
pointed to the possibility the ban would be removed "in the middle of