Published on Wednesday, March 1, 2000 in the Miami Herald
Activists Rally On Capitol Hill:
Pass The 'Hunger Relief Act'
Anti-hunger activists, immigrant advocates and religious groups rallied Tuesday outside the Capitol to press for expanded hunger relief. Their demands included restoration of food stamps to hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants declared ineligible four years ago.
The demonstrators, who included actor Jeff Bridges, were lobbying for the Hunger Relief Act, sponsored by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa. House sponsors are Reps. Tony Hall, D-Ohio; Eva Clayton, D-N.C.; and James T. Walsh, R-N.Y.
With a price tag of $2.5 billion over five years, the legislation would:
Restore food stamp eligibility to legal immigrants cut off from aid in the sweeping rewrite in 1996 of federal welfare policies. Two years ago, Congress restored food stamps for a quarter of the almost one million noncitizens affected by the cuts. The new bipartisan legislation would extend coverage to the rest and restore eligibility for immigrants who entered the country after the Aug. 22, 1996, enactment date of the welfare law.
Allow more flexibility for food stamp recipients with cars. Currently, food stamp benefits are reduced for a family that owns a car worth more than $4,650. The bill would allow states to set qualifying levels, reasoning that low-income parents need vehicles to get to jobs.
Permit more people to qualify for food help by raising the cap on allowable housing expenses from the current $275 monthly to $340. The provision is aimed at lower-income families in urban areas with high rents.
Authorize an additional $100 million over five years for food banks, a 10 percent increase.
``We have enough food, and we have enough resources, to be certain that every family in the United States has enough to eat,'' longtime anti-hunger activist Bridges told a news conference. ``What we have lacked is the political will to make it happen.''
More than 1,000 groups nationwide, running the gamut from food banks and religious groups to labor unions and health organizations, are urging the legislation's adoption.
In the United States, 31 million people live with hunger or on the edge of hunger, Bridges and others said, citing Census Bureau statistics. ``It is shocking that there are hungry people in America, but that is a fact,'' Specter said.
He and another co-sponsor, of the bill, Sen. Patrick Leahy, expressed optimism the legislation will pass.
``I think we have a better than even chance,'' said Leahy, D-Vt. ``Enough people realize you can't stand here in unparalleled prosperity and just close your eyes to children who are hungry.''