The Senate Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday voted against sending a bill to the full Senate that would have increased the number of days food stamps are distributed in the state each month.
“Our purpose here is to decide whether or not to send this bill back to the Senate floor,” said Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, chairman of the committee. At issue was Senate Bill 1053, which proposed to expand the distribution of food stamps from the current policy of one day a month (single-day issuance policy) to a staggered, 10-day distribution period.
The food stamp program provides financial assistance for low income people for purchasing food. Created by the Congress in 1964, the benefit program is funded with federal tax dollars and is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The benefits are then distributed by individual state governments, with both state and federal revenues used to fund the distribution systems.
On Feb. 19, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee passed SB 1053 and sent it to the floor of the full Senate. At that time, the costs for Idaho to move to a staggered issuance food stamps system were estimated to be more than $683,000 for the first year and in excess of $231,000 for each year thereafter.
And the estimated costs of the staggered issuance program landed the bill into trouble. The Senate sent the bill back to the committee for amending, and a re-consideration of the costs.
“We’ve done our homework, and the estimated costs are what they are,” Heider told the committee, and then opened up discussion on the matter.
“I recommend that we should look at a committee to study food stamps in Idaho, and the committee should include food producers, small grocery stores and food bank operators,” said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston. “We need a committee that is willing to keep emotions out of this, and find ways to help people stretch their food dollars. The food stamp program is supposed to be supplemental nutrition, and we need to get people to stop buying cookies, energy drinks, soft drinks and such. We need to encourage them to buy potatoes instead of a bag of potato chips.”
“We’re not really here to discuss this,” Heider interrupted. “I look forward to seeing your new legislation on nutrition, Sen. Lodge. But right now we’re discussing whether or not to send this existing bill back to floor.”
“I would contend that nutrition is a part of this, Mr. Chairman,” Lodge replied. “Simply issuing food stamps for 10 days instead of one doesn’t ensure that people are stretching their food budgets in nutritious ways. I cannot support this bill.”
The motion to send the bill back to the full Senate failed on a vote of 5 to 4, whereupon Sen. Heider noted, “we’ll try it again next year.”