Food Stamp Restrictions to Be Eased

President Clinton will issue orders today making it easier for some low-income workers to have a car and collect food stamps, White House officials said yesterday.

The president also will simplify welfare paperwork requirements and launch a public awareness campaign to make more workers aware that they may qualify for food stamps. Clinton will announce the executive actions in Baltimore when he speaks to the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group that backs work-over-welfare policies.

Now, working families that receive in-kind government assistance -- such as child care or on-the-job training -- don't qualify for food stamps if they own a car worth $4,650 or more. Clinton, arguing that most working people need reliable cars, will grant states today the right to waive that limit.

He also will allow states to require that food stamp recipients report their income quarterly instead of monthly, as current rules require. Monthly incomes fluctuate significantly for many recipients, the White House said. Also, because only 39 percent of working families eligible for food stamps actually apply for them, administration aides said Clinton will launch "a nationwide public education program" and toll-free number to help families know if they qualify.

The new policies will cost about $250 million over five years, said White House domestic policy adviser Bruce Reed.

Capitol Deals With Workplace Woes

The Architect of the Capitol, cited for health and safety violations in the congressional workplace, formed a new division yesterday to confront the problems.

The Life Safety Program Division will focus on workplace safety, fire protection and environmental concerns, architect spokesman Herb Franklin said.

The latest five citations were announced Monday by the congressional Office of Compliance. The report concluded that the architect's office endangered lives at the Library of Congress when untrained employees -- working on poorly maintained equipment -- accidentally started a fire. The fire occurred April 30 at the library's Madison Building, which houses rare documents. The documents escaped damage, but an electrician was burned.

Nerve Gas Exposure Estimate Is Cut

Far fewer Persian Gulf War soldiers than previously estimated were exposed to nerve gas in Iraq, the CIA told a presidential commission yesterday.

The assessment came as special investigators for the Pentagon and the CIA told the Special Oversight Board on Gulf War Illness that they have just about exhausted all efforts to determine a clear cause for Gulf War illnesses, with no firm evidence of a culprit.

However, former senator Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), chairman of the Pentagon-appointed board, said case studies and investigation of war databases could still be conducted, and that the issue is far from closed.

The CIA in 1997 estimated that 10,000 soldiers may have been exposed to low levels of nerve agents from the inadvertent destruction of rockets at a site called Khamisiya Pit. The Pentagon then acknowledged that as many as 100,000 soldiers may have been exposed to low levels of chemical agents. In all instances, officials said, the levels were too low to cause health problems.

"We now estimate -- in most cases -- that less agent was released, primarily because more precise data is now available," testified Robert D. Walpole, a CIA special assistant on Gulf War illnesses.

He said the latest CIA analysis resulted from evidence provided by the U.N. Special Commission.