This was a vote on an amendment by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) that would have made it more difficult for low-income families to receive food stamps. Specifically, the amendment would prohibit states from for making people who are eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (which provides financial assistance to poor families) automatically eligible for food stamps. Thus, if the amendment were to become law, TANF recipients seeking food stamps would have to prove that they were eligible for such food aid through a separate process. This amendment was offered to legislation that would provide annual funding in fiscal year 2012 for Agriculture, Transportation, and Commerce department programs.
Sessions urged support for his amendment: “…The fastest growing large program we have by far is the Food Stamp Program. It has gone from $20 billion to $80 billion since 2001, grown four times. It has doubled since 2008. This year proposes another $10 billion increase--14 percent….This is a good-government amendment. You can get food stamps. Nobody would be eliminated. You simply have to go to the office and fill out the form and show that you meet the food stamp qualifications and not get by having met other qualifications that are less stringent. I really believe it is a good amendment and would help us save some money and make this program more effective.”
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) opposed Sessions’ amendment: “The amendment…by Senator Sessions would eliminate the ability of States to align the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP [the food stamp program], eligibility rules with the temporary assistance to needy families to reduce administrative costs and simply enrollment. Since 2008, Vermont has used categorical eligibility to reach more households and more needy individuals by simplifying enrollment. Reducing administrative costs and simplifying paperwork should be a goal we all share for federal programs. But by adopting this amendment, about 1 million low-income Americans would lose their benefits and many more families that are newly eligible during these difficult economic times would have their benefits delayed because of the increased complexity of the additional processing time for applications.…Supporters of this amendment cite limited examples as proof that categorical eligibility is at the root of erroneous enrollments in SNAP. But allowing millions to go hungry because of a few anecdotal stories is shortsighted at best.”
The Senate rejected Sessions’ amendment by a vote of 41-58. Voting “yea” were 40 Republicans and 1 Democrat. 51 Democrats and 7 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have made it more difficult for low-income families to receive food stamps by prohibiting states from for making people who are eligible for the TANF program automatically eligible for food stamps.