The House cleared the way for fast action early next week on a money bill to assure no interruption in the food stamp program next month when the program would otherwise run out of funds.
Yesterday morning, the House Appropriations Committee voted an extra $2.5 billion for the stamps program and cut it loose from a $17.5 billion omnibus supplemental appropriation bill. This tactic protects the emergency food stamp funds from getting bogged down in case of controversy over other items in the bill.
Then the House Rules Committee approved a resolution which, it adopted, would keep the food stamp funds from being knocked off the floor by any of several points of order that might be raised.
This means the food stamps money bill need not wait for final approval of a budget resolution passed by the House Wednesday which raised this year's spending ceiling to make room for it. Nor need it wait for a second bill making its way through Congress authorizing the $2.5 billion increase in food stamp spending during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
Congress is working against a May 15 deadline in making the money available. Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland said he must have assurance the money will be available by then or order a suspension in the program as of June 1. Food stamps are a federal subsidy to help the poor buy food. More than 21 million people will receive them this year at a estimated cost of $8.7 billion.
House Budget Committee Chairman Robert Giaimo (D-Conn.) had tried to hold up action on food stamp funds until final approval of the budget resolution so as not to violate the Budget Act.
But by yesterday Giaimo was convinced there isn't time to get House-Senate agreement on the budget resolution and assure that the food stamp money would be available by Thursday's deadline. He withdrew his opposition and supported a motion in the Appropriations Committee to split the food stamp money off as a separate bill.
The House passed the food stamp money bill last night, 320 to 56. A House-Senate conference committee will reconcile differences between the versions passed in the two bodies.
This leaves for more leisurely consideration a $15 billion supplemental appropriation bill containing funds for dozens of agencies. Giaimo said parts of the bill smell like pork to him and he wants more time to look at it than would be possible unless food stamps were handled separately. Big items in the bill are $3.7 billion for government pay raises that took effect last fall, $3.6 billion for defense items, $2.1 billion for Medicaid and $1.5 billion as unemployment compensation for workers made jobless by imports.
Congress has been receiving a lot of mail beseeching it not to let the food stamp program run out of money. Yesterday the House showed that as the program grows it becomes even more popular with elected members. Over the years there have been closely fought battles to cut back the program. But as the House worked its way through the authorization bill raising the spending cap on the program by $2.5 billion, it rejected by 2 to 1 or better efforts to reinstate the requirement that all recipients must pay something for food stamps, to reduce benefits for households including a child receiving federally subsidized school lunches or limiting benefits to households with incomes not more than 15 percent above the poverty level.